The Mountain Miracle Part I: Discovering Life After SCAD

A Father’s Story

I have always thought of myself as a courageous and brave person. I guess I never fully understood what that truly meant. People deal with crises every day in their lives, but until you have lived through one, you can never fully appreciate the true agony that those people endure. A crisis is ruthless and knows no compassion.
I have three grown children, Jeremy, Justin and Danielle. Jeremy and Justin are the oldest. They are great big brothers to their sister Danielle, who was a sophomore at Indiana University majoring in pre-med and communications.

My family decided on a late vacation that year. Planning a vacation with adult children can be quite an arduous task. In early December, the kids were finally able to agree on a date. We decided to go skiing.

My wife Lisa and I found a complete package on the internet. Eight days of fun, sun and snow in Beaver Creek, Colorado. We had been there before, and no vacation ski trip can compare with its beauty, amenities and quaint atmosphere. It’s heaven.
It was our second day of vacation. My son Jeremy was on his way to Colorado from Chicago to meet us. Justin and my wife Lisa had already left to get an early start on the slopes. Dani and I decided to take the Centennial lift to a beginner hill. Up and down we went, falling left, falling right, falling forwards, and falling backwards. I think you get the point. Every fall ended with a smile and determination to get the next run right. After a couple of hours and numerous bumps and bruises, we decided to take a lesson.
Our snowboard instructor, Mark, was from Maryland. We headed over to the Buckaroo Gondola and when we exited the gondola, Dani said she was not feeling well. Her back and chest were aching, and she was feeling a little nauseous. For precautionary reasons, we decided to call ski patrol and have them take a look at her. Within five minutes, the ski patrol medic arrived. He asked a couple of questions and checked the mobility of her shoulder. He told her that she had 3 options: He could take her down the gondola and she could see the doctor; she could take the gondola down and call it a day; or she could relax and resume her day of skiing when she felt better. Dani opted to relax for a few minutes. 
The bunny hill that we were on was no longer than 30 yards. I went first, and Dani decided to sit and relax. After a few minutes, Dani decided to ski through a little pain rather than just sit on the side of the mountain, so off she went with Mark. Half way down I could see that Dani was uncomfortable. We decided to call ski patrol back. At that point, I knew something wasn’t right.
Ski patrol showed up quickly but it seemed like forever. The patroller took off his skis and walked over to ask Dani how she was doing. Dani said that she needed to go down to see a doctor. The ski patroller then walked back to get the toboggan to take her down. At that moment Dani’s eyes rolled back in her head and she turned blue. Within seconds, the ski patroller was calling on the radio for assistance. I can’t possibly describe the horror and helplessness that I felt. Why couldn’t it be me?
Additional help arrived within minutes. The paramedics began administering CPR and inserted a breathing tube. Seconds later, they cut off her clothes and connected her to the defibrillator. I really do not recall much more than that. I think our brains try to minimize traumatic situations, and in this situation, I am certainly glad that I cannot remember everything.

The ski patrol moved her down the hill, side by side in two toboggans. Dani in one and two or three ski patrol paramedics are in the other. They were continuously administering CPR and oxygen through the resuscitator. Two other ski patrol personnel guided them down the mountain.
I took the gondola down with two other people; my mind was all over the place; I couldn’t think. When we got to the bottom, we ran to where the ambulance was. Dani was already in the ambulance when we arrived and they were trying to stabilize her before loading her into the Flight for Life helicopter. The police and paramedics tried to comfort me. I kept asking what was taking so long. They were saving her life.
Dani spent 4 days in the hospital in Denver where doctors inserted a stent to open the left artery in her heart. Dani had suffered a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (a SCAD) which caused a 100% blockage of her left artery. We were showered with love, hope and comfort by everyone we came into contact with.

My family and I are forever grateful to everyone who assisted in saving my daughter’s life. It was made abundantly clear that the only reason Danielle survived was because of the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol. These people are stoic; they are courageous, and they are my heroes. They literally saved my daughter’s life in front of my eyes.
I was fortunate enough to have spoken with all of Ski Patrol the day after the event. They will never be able to fully appreciate the genuine respect and admiration that I have for each and every one of them. We are forever indebted to them. They gave my family the greatest gift, the life of my daughter.

SCAD Research, Inc is the largest supporter of SCAD research at the Mayo Clinic. To learn more about SCAD, or to donate funds to research to help patients affected by SCAD, please visit #scadstories

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