February 20, 2013
The Dr. James Reuler Service Award was established in 2013 to recognize medical student(s) who perform extraordinary service. The first of these awards was presented to David Simmons, MS3, on Monday, Feb. 11.
Dr. Osborne made the announcement on MD Student Update, the internal blog for MD students in the School of Medicine (OHSU login required). Here is a copy of her announcement:
Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a good start.
Many of you heard about the terrible bus crash that occurred last month on I-84. If you didn’t, the quick facts are that a tour bus went off the road on the morning of December 30 and plunged down a snowy ravine east of Pendleton. At least 39 people were injured, and nine people died. Several of the injured were brought to OHSU. What many of you don’t know is that one of our MS3s was among the first people on the scene.
David Simmons and his family were returning from a trip to La Grande when they saw someone waving for help on the side of the road. With David’s permission, I’m sharing his story about what happened next. It’s an example of everyday heroism, and it’s what any of us would do, I believe, when faced with the same situation.
I was with my girlfriend and my children, who are 14 and 16. We pulled over and got out. We couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes behind the accident. The bus had gone over the guardrail and was down this deep ravine. It was about 200 feet down, and there was about a foot-and-a half of snow. People were scattered all over. We heard screaming for help. We made sure someone had called 911 and started trying to figure out what to do.
My girlfriend began pulling everything she could out of our trunk: sleeping bags, blankets, jackets, mittens, hats, first aid kit. After that initial adrenaline burst, I was able to take stock, make sure my kids were safe, and figure out a way down where we wouldn’t break our necks. My girlfriend and I carried everything we could. We slid down the side of the ravine on our butts.
There was another guy there who had EMT training. We went about identifying the survivors and keeping them as still and as warm as possible. I wish I could say I went about securing airways and triaging the injured but that wasn’t the deal. I don’t have that level of training, for one; and what was required was hardcore wilderness medicine. But I believe my training did help me to stay calm and work at the top of my ability. The most critical things required were things we could do, which were to keep people warm and get them out. Hypothermia was the biggest worry out there. It’s about 4,000 feet in elevation. The conditions were cold and tough.
After about 20 minutes, the first of the first responders arrived, and a few more people came down to help. We went back up and brought down more blankets. It was obvious the emergency personnel wouldn’t be able to get a truck or ambulance down the slope so a state trooper grabbed me and asked my girlfriend and me to use a pair of snowshoes to make a path up to the roadbed.
We got a route clear, and the first responders started sending down backboards. Those survivors who could walk out were helped up the ravine.
It didn’t take long for the scale of the situation to settle in, and the EMT coordinating the rescue asked for all the help they could get just getting people out on sleds. So I asked my 16-year-old son, who is a pretty big guy, if he wanted to help. “It’s pretty bad down there, you don’t have to do it,” I told him. But he wanted to. So the three of us spent the next few hours helping to get the survivors out. My 14-year-old daughter stayed at the top and handed out food and water that we had in our car. We didn’t quit until the last of the survivors was out. It was really important to all of us that we stay until the end and do everything we could.
We were soaked and cold and completely rattled. We drove to Pendleton, changed into dry clothing and got something to eat. We were exhausted. Then we went on with the rest of our trip.
Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. It was an incredibly humbling experience for me and my family. Our hearts are broken for the families of those who were killed. It sounds corny, but we realized how fast things can change and how precious every minute is. And in the midst of that tragedy, there were all these people doing everything they could to help others and that was a beautiful thing.
I’m a rural scholar. When you’re a part of any sort of monumental experience like that, it gets inside you, and it changes you. You see the heart of that place and of the people who were there. We went out and helped, and it mattered. That’s what I’m hoping to continue to do in a rural community once I graduate. Now, more than ever, it seems possible to really make a difference.
We’re sharing this story to honor and recognize David and his family’s extraordinary contributions. It’s a wonderful example of selfless action, professionalism in an emergency and of lending a hand when others need it most.
David’s actions go right to the heart of what our community is about: caring for others to the very best of our ability. And I agree with David when he says that “any of my colleagues would have done the same thing we did; compassion is at the heart of our training here.”
We in the Dean’s offices discussed ways to honor David Simmons and have developed an annual Dr. James Reuler Service Award to be given out to medical student(s) who perform extraordinary service. The first of these awards will be given out to David Simmons at our next MedNet meeting Monday, February 11, 2013. We look forward to seeing you there.