Mending and marrying
NISSWA--A paramedic who nearly died when his helicopter crashed last year has reached a milestone in his rehabilitation efforts: he'll be able to walk down the aisle for his wedding this Saturday.
NISSWA-A paramedic who nearly died when his helicopter crashed last year has reached a milestone in his rehabilitation efforts: he'll be able to walk down the aisle for his wedding this Saturday.
Miles Weske, 35 and Brook Weber, 31, met through work: Weske as a flight paramedic for North Memorial and Weber as a flight nurse for Sanford. Although they worked for separate hospitals in Bemidji, they both commuted from the Brainerd lakes area. The coveted status of flight medic is the highest that emergency medical service workers can attain, Weber said. Along with the prestige comes a different kind of risk, as their ambulance hurtles through the air on helicopter rotors.
Weske's memories from a week before the wreck and two months afterwards are gone.
"I just went to sleep for a couple months," he said.
But Weber remembers the day very well. Acutely aware of the dangers their jobs in the air involved, the couple made a practice of texting each other after they completed each run to let the other know they were safe.
"We always joke in texts when the other was going on a flight and say 'I love you, don't you dare die on me,'" she said. "The other one always says 'Haven't yet.'"
On the night of Sept. 18, he texted her that he was going on a run from Alexandria to an unknown location and that he loved her. Then he didn't text back for three hours. At about 3:30 a.m., her air care service was paged to take a patient from Crosby-something Weske's flight would normally do, as it was in their service area.
"The only thing I could think of (was), 'Wow, this flight must be taking a long time, so Miles is still out of the area, that's why they're paging us for this flight'" she remembered.
But then she kept thinking, and realized she would have gotten a text from her fiance if he had an additional run to make that would have kept him out longer ... so something was wrong. Then, her dispatch called her with the news. At about 2:07 a.m. Sept. 19, Weske's helicopter had crashed near the east shore of Lake Winona, in Alexandria.
There had never been a crash with North Memorial before, Weber said, and air medics have a better chance of being in a crash driving in their car to the helipad than once they get in the air.
After she was told Weske's helicopter had gone down, Weber didn't react emotionally, her professional EMS stoicism kicking into gear. After a day or two, that changed rather suddenly. She had fallen asleep on Weske's arm while waiting beside his hospital bed in the Twin Cities, when the sound of patient monitor alarms woke her up. It was then that that she fully realized the depth of what had happened to the man she was supposed to marry.
"'Holy crap,'" she recalled thinking. "'This is Miles.' And then I cried for 48 hours straight."
Weske's injuries were extensive and severe. He had fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck, as well as his left clavicle, scapula and eight or nine ribs, and his right femur and ankle. He had a traumatic brain injury with bleeding, lungs that were "literally mush," a lacerated liver, his left ear ripped off, and a cut from the chin strap of his flight helmet so deep his thyroid gland was visible inside the meat of his neck, Weber recalled.
One day after he entered the intensive care unit, his lungs failed and his oxygen levels went low enough to stop his heart. Weber watched from outside the hospital room door as doctors tried to shock Weske back into life with a defibrillator. She said she needed to be there.
"If things didn't go well, I wanted to be that guy that made sure they did everything they could before they called it," she said. "Just for my grieving process. But he, of course, surprised us all, including the doctors and respiratory therapists, and he came back."
She remembered when she saw the blip on the monitor that appeared after doctors shocked him for the last time-when she knew he was alive. His successful resuscitation startled even the doctors.
Weske's troubles weren't over. About three days in the ICU, the drugs being used to keep him alive began to overwhelm his kidneys, and he became dependent on constant dialysis. He got pneumonia several times. He was in the ICU for slightly more than two and a half weeks. After just about two months in the hospital, he came back Nov. 18.
For months afterwards, Weber would go to hug Weske and find more stitches she could pull out, he said.
"Four months later, we're still finding injuries," he said.
He recently graduated to outpatient therapy, and he hopes to be fully rehabilitated and able to go back to being a flight paramedic within a year. He wants to get back in the field, hunting and fishing and mountain biking. He's still got a way to go on his therapy path, however.
"It's just a lot of hard work, and pain in places I didn't know could be painful," he said.
Weske will have a life partner to help him along the way: he'll marry Weber this Saturday. Before the accident, they had planned on a small, intimate setting, but after her fiance almost died, Weber's plans began to get a bit more grandiose.
The wedding is not just a celebration of the love Weber and Weske have for each other-it also celebrates the love their family and friends and even complete strangers have shown in helping them recover from the crash. There's still another aspect to the event: the wedding falls the day of Weber's birthday and the day before Weske's, so it also celebrates the fact Weske is alive.
"It's just us making sure that they know that we understand what they did for us," Weske said. "I wouldn't be here not only physically, but emotionally without them."