In rural Alaska access to emergency medical care relies on many factors like distance, weather, and time of day. For one 10-year-old girl in Eek, emergency care also relied on one pilot’s good will after the child’s traumatic bike accident. KYUK talked with the girl’s mother and the pilot who helped them out.
Kimberly Hoffman is the child’s mother.
HOFFMAN: “She crashed. I don’t know how she crashed. But all her body weight went on her bike handle. And the handle bar went through her stomach and went all the way in. But it didn’t rupture anything. So I’m a health aide in Eek, and I’m the only one there.
The first thing I did was I called the doctor and told them what was going on,” I gave them her vitals. And I sent her picture to the doctor.
I was panicking, so I called my former co-worker. She came right away, and she helped me. And the medevac wasn’t going to pick her up. So I quickly called the charter around 8:30. Despite how late it was, I decided to give it a chance.”
Jerry White is the director of maintenance and a pilot at Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures in Bethel.
WHITE: “I was coming into work to paint one of our aircraft after hours after everybody was gone.
I answered the phone, and she explained to me the situation. I could hear her daughter crying in the background, and at that point I knew I needed to go.”
HOFFMAN: “So he said he would pick us up in 45 minutes.”
WHITE: “I remembered we went and picked up a kid out of Kwethluk, the company did, earlier in the year. And he had a broken arm. He had stayed in the village all night. And it tore me up. I couldn’t think of, knowing I got this phone call, letting a kid, even if it was just something nonlife-threatening, not getting the medical attention they need and having to suffer all night until a charter company can come the next morning, if the weather is good.
So the weather was good, and I had access to an airplane. [I”m a] licensed pilot. I thought there was no reason why I can’t go. So I went.”
HOFFMAN: “So we quickly got her wrapped up and slowly went to the airport and he carried her onto his plane, because she couldn’t walk.”
WHITE: “So we loaded her up, got everybody situated and secured, and I immediately got ready to take off again after doing a very brief walk around, make sure the plane was okay. Just a little four-seat airplane.”
HOFFMAN: “And then we got to Bethel, he carried her out again into my sister-in-laws car. And we went to the hospital, and that’s when we found out the bike handle went all the way through, but it didn’t rupture anything.”
At this point, Kimberly and her daughter are flown to Anchorage for further treatment.
HOFFMAN: “They went in with a scope and they looked to see if any organs were hit. And then they took her appendix out, because they were already in there. Because if she started having pain they didn’t want to risk having her appendix being infected or anything. So they did a pretty massive surgery on her.
She [Hoffman’s daughter] is doing good. We have a re-check, and hopefully heading home on Wednesday.”
KYUK discovered this story when Kimberly contacted the station to send a public thank you to Jerry, the pilot, and Verna Henry, Eek’s former health aide. The accident occurred Thursday May 19. Kimberly and her daughter are returning to Eek today. Jerry didn’t charge Kimberly for the ride and said he’s just glad he could help. Berna couldn’t be reached for this story.