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Stranded hiker saves rescuer hit by chopper blades

July 11, 2012 | 12:07 pm

Jeremy Kilburn rescues rescuer
U.S. Air Force doctor Jeremy Kilburn suffered a painful broken leg in a hiking accident last week in a Northern California forest and needed medical care and evacuation. But he quickly turned from the rescued to the rescuer.

Kilburn is credited with helping to save the life of a California Highway Patrol paramedic who had helicoptered in to aid him. The officer, Tony Stanley, was accidentally hit in the head by the aircraft’s rotor blades, knocking him unconscious and causing severe bleeding.

Kilburn, with the help of a friend, hobbled more than 50 yards to the copter, where he inserted a breathing tube into Stanley’s throat and administered oxygen. He directed another person to keep pressure on the officer’s skull wound. Both injured men were then flown out from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to a Redding hospital.

At a news conference Wednesday from Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas, where he is stationed, Kilburn said he has yet to see Stanley again, but looks forward to thanking him for coptering in to rescue him. “Nothing would make me happier. It would be one of the highlights of my life,” the critical care pulmonologist said.

Kilburn, 34, said he feels guilty that his own accident -- stumbling when his dog bumped into him -- set off the frightening chain of events.

"If I didn’t break my leg, this never would have happened," he said. "This will never be over for me until I look him into the eyes and say, ‘Hey, man, I am so sorry I put you in this position.'"

He said he takes heart that Stanley, 40, recovered consciousness, showed strong vital signs and gave a thumbs up sign during the copter flight to the hospital. Although authorities have declined to reveal Stanley’s current condition or the extent of his injuries, Kilburn on Wednesday said he was optimistic that the CHP paramedic would fully recover. Meanwhile, Kilburn has returned to his Air Force medical duties in a leg splint and wheelchair and expects to undergo leg surgery soon.

He thanked his lifelong friend and hiking companion Daniel Grasso for his help, along with the copter pilot and other people on the scene, including counselors of a nearby children’s camp, who joined the rescue. He described the incident as “a good story about people pulling together.”

The turn of events, he recalled, was stunning. “It was a split-second thing, from feeling vulnerable and pathetic ... to becoming someone providing help,” he said. The adrenaline rush and his training propelled him: “I went into critical care doctor mode. You’re trained in this stuff so much,” he said.

Kilburn has not served overseas in a combat zone, but said he may be assigned to Afghanistan next year.


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Photo: Jeremy Kilburn. Credit: Sgt. Jason W. Edwards / U.S. Air Force