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Old 09-20-2010   #11
malloypc's Avatar
Albany, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 256
I just got back from another Rogue trip and saw your post.
Do you have any update on Tom's condition?
A few of the folks involved in the rescue have been asking.
Last I heard (from a Grants Pass reporter over a month ago) he was in therapy and still unable to do much with his legs.
Hopefully he's improving.
One of the last things said to him (by Blair) as he was being loaded on the Sheriff's jetboat was "See you back here next year!" and he replied, "And I'll be rowing my own boat!"
Let him know we think of him often and give him our best wishes for recovering.
Jerry Malloy
PS feel free to reply off-line to

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Old 02-28-2011   #12
eelriver's Avatar
Eugene, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1992
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 3
Very Belated Thanks (Part 1)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Greetings Jerry, Blair, and all the Angels in Albany!

Do you know where you were seven months ago today? You were taking out from a very eventful trip down the Rogue River. As you recall, I had to leave the river a day early as I lost my footing on a big rock and fell about 20 feet landing hard with my C6 vertebra against a 4-5 inch sapling.

There is no excuse for not writing to you sooner. To say that I have been disabled and/or busy does not express the immense amount of gratitude I have for those of you who sacrificed dinner, drinks, and hours of your quality vacation time to rescue a poor wretch like me. And although there have been a small army of paramedics, doctors, nurses, therapists, and other caregivers who have helped me along the way since my rescue from Tate Creek, my miraculous recovery would not have been possible without the wonderful first responding efforts of you people, this small band of Angels from Albany, Oregon. I’m not only proud of you for taking the time and effort to care for me, but I am infinitely and sincerely grateful for the remarkable level of care I was given in those first few hours of my evacuation. Thank you.

As you already know, moving someone with a spinal cord injury is an extremely delicate and risky task! It takes great skill, bravery, and courage to do what you did. One bad move or bad decision can leave a person paralyzed for life, so it takes a lot of guts to do anything more than just standing there, wringing your hands nervously, screaming, crying, and praying. Having attended lots of Swiftwater Rescue, First Aid, and CPR classes myself, I often wondered if I would be ready to respond in a calm and responsible manner when called upon to perform such a seemingly impossible task. And while the jury is still out on my untested abilities, let me tell you that you folks passed all the real life tests with flying colors!

As you might have guessed by now, the past seven months have been a very long, painful, emotional, and spiritual experience for me. The journey from the creek bed to the hospital bed was a nine-hour ordeal that got foggier in my memory the longer the trip went on.

The Evacuation. As you already know, the portage down Tate Creek took almost three hours. There was an incident commander who called all the shots. Rock by rock and inch by inch, the phrase I will never forget was, “Is there anyone who isn’t ready?” And if there wasn’t, there would be a command to move the body board with me, the victim, on top of it, one more inch, or over one more rock to the next resting place.

There was also one person who cradled my head and neck at all times to make sure that my spine was not injured further. I think there was also another person who constantly cared for my shock and mental condition. I was constantly being asked, “What’s your name, Tom?” or “What day is it?” or “Where are you?” or “What’s the name of the current U.S. President?” By answering these questions correctly, my rescuers knew that I did not have a traumatic brain injury.

There were also at least three strong men on each side of the body board who had to lift and move my 175 pounds of dead weight carefully and in unison with each order given by the incident commander. The creek bed in Tate Creek is a jumble of slippery and mossy rocks of all sizes and shapes. There are logs across the creek. Carrying a stretcher down this creek would require firm foot placement, careful lifting over and under obstacles, stooping and bending, and attention to detail. The Angels from Albany were a huge group of strong men. When one would tire, a fresh player would replace him from the second-string bench. This was a magnificently executed operation without any slip-ups or incidents. I owe my life and wellbeing to these brave, strong, and courageous men. Thank you again.

The body board used to carry me down the creek was one of those marine plywood cooking prep tables that are about 6+ feet long that strap to a frame made of welded electrical conduit. The table folds up just like any folding table so it makes a nice bench on the raft. And the plywood top has 6-8 hand slots along its edges and these slots allow it to be cam-strapped onto the metal table frame for use as a prep table when cooking. These slots also allow the table to be unstrapped from the frame and used as a rigid body board in a medical emergency. The people cooking dinner must’ve had to improvise since I occupied their table all evening. What an incredibly useful piece of river gear to have! This will be the very next piece of river gear I purchase!

I was in such shock that I can remember few details beyond these. I thought that the Albany Angels arrived to get me with the body board about ten minutes after my fall, and that the whole trip down the creek took about an hour. However, I have learned since that my fall happened at about 6:45 p.m. PDT, and it was almost dark by the time I was put on the jet boat for the trip down the Rogue River. It gets dark in July at about 9:30 p.m. PDT, so that means that I must have spent closer to three hours on that stretcher.

At some point, I’ll have to send you a copy of the Grants Pass newspaper article about my rescue. The reporter called the hospital and requested a telephone interview with me during my first few days there, but I was in such shock at the time that I doubted whether my account of the rescue would have been accurate. In my humble opinion, it was you guys, the Angels from Albany, who orchestrated and executed the entire operation from start to finish. According to the newspaper reporter, it was the local heroes at ECHO, the commercial outfitter, who should deserve the lion’s share of the credit. I know that they used the satellite phone to call for help, but I wasn’t aware of how much they actually participated in that long and strenuous body portage down Tate Creek. Maybe you guys should set me straight on those details. Regardless of how little or how much ECHO participated, I am also very grateful for their help during this crisis.

The Journey to Eugene. After the portage down Tate Creek, I was taken by the Curry County Sherriff in a jet boat to probably Foster Bar (since it was getting too dark and foggy for a helicopter rescue). My dear friend, Debra, who I was teaching to row a boat on this Rogue River trip, joined me for the evacuation. From there, the Illahee Volunteer Fire Department took me to Agness by ambulance, where I was transferred to another ambulance which took me the rest of the way to the hospital in Gold Beach, where an MRI of my spine confirmed my worst fears – that I had indeed broken my neck.

The doctor in Gold Beach said that he had no facilities there for treating spinal cord injuries. I told him that I was from Sacramento, and I asked the doctor where I should go for treatment. He said he knew nothing about California except that good care there was a long journey away. Then he said that, if it was his injury, he would personally be headed for Eugene, Oregon – no doubt about it.

Gold Beach was a very dark and foggy place by this time so a life flight from Gold Beach was not possible, and I was starting to experience a lot of pain. For that reason, I was quickly loaded into another ambulance for a bumpy ride up the Pacific Coast on US-101. At some point in the fifth or sixth hour after my fall, the pain became more than I could bear. Since I did not have a traumatic brain injury, I was able to receive a couple units of good morphine, so I did not experience the next three or four hours of the journey. However, my friend, Debra, was very conscious and alert and told me that I was taken to Coos Bay, where a life flight in a very modern jet plane took the two of us to the Eugene Airport. And from there, yet another (fourth) ambulance took me to Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC), a two-year-old hospital at Riverbend in Springfield, Oregon. When I woke up, it was about 3:00 a.m. PDT on July 25, 2010, and I was getting an MRI at this hospital.

The Next Seven Months. That was just the evacuation and the journey to Eugene. It would be difficult to summarize what the past seven months of my life have been like, but I will try.

At Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield, my neurosurgeon, Dr. Daniel Hutton, performed two surgeries.

(continued in next post)

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Old 02-28-2011   #13
eelriver's Avatar
Eugene, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1992
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 3
Very Belated Thanks (Part 2)

(continued from last post)

The first surgery was a six-hour operation. My C6 vertebra was broken into two or three pieces and the spinal cord in that area had expanded out of the spinal column and looked kind of like a fried egg in the MRI pictures I saw. For that reason, the best thing that Dr. Hutton could do was to enclose the expanded section of the C6 spinal cord in a lightweight titanium mesh screen to confine it to the spinal column, and then carefully fuse the broken pieces of the C6 vertebra to the C5 vertebra above it. He also installed a titanium hinge from C5 to T2 so that my spine would once again be both rigid and yet flexible. The operation was a great success since my spinal cord was only shocked but not severed. Dr. Hutton also had a few other complications to deal with. My vertebral artery had ruptured, so he was tasked with sewing that back together, and with sewing several torn ligaments in my neck back in place.

Before this operation, I had very little sensory feelings in my lower body, and I could not move anything from my breasts on down. After this operation, the feeling in my lower body began to improve, and I was able to do slight leg movements and wiggle my toes – all very hopeful signs for my long-term recovery.

However, there was another problem. Every time one of the nurses tried to get me to sit in bed and eat, I experienced excruciating pain from my left shoulder to the tips of the fingers in my left hand. Dr. Hutton explained that this sounded like a typical C7 nerve problem – probably caused by a bone spur or a pinched nerve. He explained that a separate operation would be required to fix that. Personally, I had little faith even though the first operation had been such a smashing success. Nevertheless, I consented to a second two-hour operation to correct the pinched C7 nerve, which required a third incision in my neck. Amazingly enough, my left arm felt completely free from pain as I began to wake up in post-op! Dr. Hutton had done it! My recovery could begin at this point.

OK, to be fair, there wasn’t much I could do for myself at this point. I was ten days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Riverbend. I had a six-inch incision running along the back of my neck next to the spine and two incisions above my collarbone in the front of my neck. I also had to wear an Aspen collar for about six weeks after the two operations. But the care I received from all the doctors and nurses at Sacred Heart was just phenomenal. If you ever have to experience a spinal cord injury (and I hope you don’t), I strongly recommend Dr. Hutton and Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield, Oregon.

I was (and will always be) diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic. I never liked the word “incomplete” because it always seemed to have some negative connotation in school. However, the word “incomplete” has a happy connotation here. It means that I am not completely paralyzed for life. Nevertheless, quadriplegic means that there is an injury to all four of my limbs, so quadriplegics are generally worse off than paraplegics, unless the words complete and incomplete are used to describe them.

After ten days in the ICU, I spent a week in the Neuro ward. I had regular visits from Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Physical Therapists (PTs). And it was determined that I could benefit greatly from the Oregon Rehab Center (ORC), an inpatient rehabilitation program at the Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC) in Eugene. For those familiar with SHMC, that is the old hospital in Eugene started by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1936. The new hospital complex in Springfield is only two years old.

I spent over 60 days as an inpatient at ORC and learned such things as how to sit up, stand up, get out of bed on my own, get in and out of a wheelchair, propel myself down the hallway using a wheelchair, and eventually, how to walk with a walker and a cane, and how to go up and down stairs, and do the normal activities of daily living like dressing oneself, bathing oneself, feeding oneself, and taking control of one’s bowel and bladder functions. (Oh, how much we all take for granted!)

On October 14, 2010, after being in the hospital for almost 90 days, I moved into a foster care home on the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, and I began attending outpatient therapy at the hospital twice a week. I stayed at the first foster care home for another 90 days before moving to this new one at 17th and Polk in Eugene, Oregon. I needed to move closer to town.

The Present. Actually, I just returned from my first trip to California since I fell. I flew to Sacramento and then I relearned how to drive a motor vehicle while I was there. I drove back to Eugene earlier this week in my pickup truck. And I finally started walking with a cane just two short weeks ago! On Wednesday, I turned in my wheelchair, and I only use my four-wheeled walker (with a seat) for long distances where I might need to sit down before I get there.

My plan for the next 2-3 months is to stay here in Eugene and to work out at the YMCA three days a week while continuing my outpatient therapy at Sacred Heart the other two days a week. Since I can drive now and walk with a cane, I can travel on weekends, and do a few light recreational activities now.

My legs are improving beyond my wildest dreams! Considering that my fall was only seven months ago, my recovery to the point of walking with a cane is indeed quite miraculous. And it bears repeating once again that I wouldn’t be walking at all if anybody but the Angels had picked me up and delivered me from where I laid in the bottom of Tate Creek! More sincere thank yous are in order for that!

My hands are going to be a much bigger problem for me. I have no extensors in my left hand, even though I have muscles that allow me to grip things. Since I can’t really open my left hand, I have to wrap my hand around an object to hold it, grip it, or lift it. And my right hand lacks much of the manual dexterity that it once had as well. Nevertheless, I am encouraged that I can adapt and develop what muscle control I do have so that I can return to the independent living situation I once had before my accident. And yes, I hope that includes expedition river boating! Gripping the oar handles certainly seems like an activity that I will be able to do soon.

The Future. Gosh, nobody knows what the future holds for any of us! And if I learned anything at all from this experience, it is that your whole life can change forever in the flash of two short seconds. Nevertheless, I have reasons to hope that my recovery will be rapid, dramatic, and ongoing for the rest of this Gift from God that I now regard as my life.

I turn 60 in April and I already have plans to start boating Class II and Class III rivers as soon as spring runoff begins this year! I am encouraged that the Willamette and McKenzie rivers are right here in my own backyard! And I intend to start boating all of these great Oregon rivers that I have never had a chance to boat before: the John Day, the Deschutes, the Grande Ronde, etc. And I cannot wait to get back to Tate Creek again to see how and why I fell where I did – in one of my favorite places in the whole wide world. Yes, that means that I am planning to boat the Rogue River again this year. Whether I can do Coffee Pot and Blossom Bar all by myself this year remains to be seen, but I am fairly certain that I can negotiate all of the other rapids involved.

One of my long-term goals was (and still is) to boat 400+ continuous miles of the Green / Colorado Rivers from Flaming Gorge Dam to Lake Powell, and I fully intend to make that trip as planned before my fall. My tentative put-in date for that trip is April 20, 2013, so I have a little more than two years to get ready for that trip. This trip would takes us down the Green River through Red and Swallow Canyons, Browns Park, through the Canyons of Lodore, Whirlpool, and Split Mountain Canyons of Dinosaur National Monument, Desolation and Gray Canyons, Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons, through the Confluence with (and continuing on) the Colorado River, between the Maze District and Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, and finally through the wild waters of Cataract Canyon. I am planning to average about ten miles per day, so this trip will take at least 40 days and 40 nights and will require several provision refreshes along the way. If this expedition interests you, please let me know ASAP as I’d love to have you along on this adventure of a lifetime.

(continued in next post)
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Old 02-28-2011   #14
eelriver's Avatar
Eugene, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1992
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 3
Very Belated Thanks (Part 3)

continued from last post)

One of my short-term goals in the very near future is to host a pizza party in Albany for all the Angels who had a hand in carrying me down Tate Creek. Albany is not all that far away from Eugene, and since I can drive, it seems silly to not plan to get together with all of you and shake your hands in person! So please find a weekend that works well for all of you and let me know when and where that party should take place.

There is so much more to say, but until I get the opportunity to thank each and every one of you in person, just let me close by cordially and humbly thanking you for helping me in my time of need, and for doing such a stellar job of it. I can walk today thanks to the great care you took to preserve my spine. There really are no words to convey the deep feelings of gratitude I have for you folks. You folks are the Angels from Heaven that God sent to save me. You may not see the wings and halos when you look in the mirror, but I can see them, and I know that they are there.

Best Wishes for this Lifetime and Beyond!

Very Respectfully Yours,
Tom Frye
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Old 02-28-2011   #15
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,407
Amazing story.

Many thanks for sharing it with every one.

Hard to comment anything more
The Boating Community is more like a brother / sister hood when it comes to helping some one in need.
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Old 02-28-2011   #16
Medford, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 88
Glad that you are healing well. Hope to see you out on the river soon.
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Old 02-28-2011   #17
wildh2onriver's Avatar
irvine, California
Paddling Since: 1987
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 1,197
Thanks for updating us on your condition and the details that got you to this miraculous outcome! Very happy that you are doing well and best wishes for a complete recovery and the realization of your goals--both on and off the river.

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Old 02-28-2011   #18
North Bend, Washington
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 476
wow- amazing story- thanks for sharing
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Old 03-01-2011   #19
slamkal's Avatar
vancouver, Washington
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 1,146
Wow. Amazing story. I hope you continue in your recovery. Also sounds like one of those tables is in order for that unused spot on my cat
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Old 03-01-2011   #20
Louisville, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 520
Time to modify my table to add hand holds. You'd have to have straps through the skinny holes on mine to carry a person.

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