Saving Sam: How an Air Methods crew worked to assist a boy in crisis

A dedicated crew, well-skilled in emergency transportation and logistics, make a difference as they transport a young brain injury victim from South Dakota to Colorado

One year after his traumatic brain injury, the parents of Sam Soulek are still marveling at how well things have turned out for their 7-year-old son.

“For a horrible experience, it was the best possible scenario you could have,” said Wendy Soulek.

Last July the Souleks, residents of Spearfish, had purchased a new horse. Sam disobeyed his parents’ instructions to not ride the horse, was promptly bucked off and fell backwards on his head.

Sam’s parents rushed to their son. By the time they arrived, said Paul Soulek, “the ambulance was already there and they were working on Sam.”

Sam was unconscious, not breathing on his own and had had a seizure.  While the local hospital stabilized Sam, doctors at the scene quickly realized the boy needed additional treatment elsewhere, and fast.

Air Methods flight nurse Dave Ratzsch vividly recalls that day.

“We arrived at the helipad locally at the hospital and were taken into the emergency room,” he remembered. “At that time Sam was just being wheeled over into the CAT scan. He was unresponsive, had a breathing tube.”

Ratzsch notified Air Methods dispatch that Sam might need another mode of transport, since the local hospital at the time did not have the neurosurgeon needed.

After quickly consulting with the Souleks, the decision was made to fly Sam via fixed-wing transport to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver.

Air Methods flight paramedic Tanner Walz picks up the story from there. His aircraft arrived at Spearfish and immediately linked up with Dave Ratzsch, who had the hospital CAT scan results that showed Sam had suffered a skull fracture and was bleeding in his head.

Ratzsch stayed with Sam on the fixed-wing flight to Denver. He monitored Sam’s condition, helped with the boy’s various medications while in flight and kept Mrs. Soulek, who flew with Sam, updated on her son’s condition.

“We stay with them, bedside-to-bedside,” Dave noted about Air Methods’ protocol. “So from the moment we make contact with them until the moment we turn them over to the higher level of care, the appropriate level of care, we stay with them.”

“Dave was with us the whole way,” Wendy Soulek remembered. “He was like this calming force. And when we got to the airport (in Denver) they kept him going to the hospital, and then they got (the hospital) team out. The transfer was so smooth. It was just an amazing experience.”

Thanks to the rapid, efficient and well-practiced transition from the accident site to a specialist’s care, hundreds of miles away, Sam’s prognosis is good.

“They’re hoping for 100% recovery,” said Wendy. “We won’t know more until he’s older, as his brain develops, if there’s any scarring or impairment of any kind. We don’t think there will be, so we’re kind of excited about that.”

Tanner Walz said that seeing Sam now, as compared to that dire time a year ago, “it actually floored me.”

“Looking at him today,” he noted, “you’d have no idea that anything had ever happened to him.”