SAN FRANCISCO – When he broke his leg and needed to be evacuated from a national forest in Northern California, U.S. Air Force doctor Jeremy Kilburn never thought he would be called on to save the life of his rescuer.
But that's just what happened when a California Highway Patrol officer sent to help Kilburn last week in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest was hit by the rotor blades of a helicopter. The injured Kilburn and the officer, Tony Stanley, switched roles.
Kilburn told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Stanley suffered a fractured skull.
When he learned of the injury, Kilburn hobbled, fell and crawled about 50 yards on his broken leg to Stanley.
"Yes, you're in pain, but this guy is dead or dying or something," he said. "All my military training told me I had to get to this guy now. The adrenaline just kicks in."
Stanley, who was unconscious, had lost blood, but that wasn't Kilburn's main concern. He was worried about his breathing.
He inserted a tube in the back of Stanley's throat to help keep his airway open and directed another person to keep pressure on his skull.
Kilburn, a critical care pulmonologist with the Air Force assigned to Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas, Nev., has experience treating brain injuries and had just given a talk about managing a patient's airway in such cases.
He wanted to do a more elaborate procedure to secure Stanley's airway, but decided against it.
"I just had this thought that doing something fancy is going to get me in trouble here," he said. "Let's do simple things."
When Stanley started to come to, Kilburn decided that was the time to try to get him out of there.
Stanley was put on a stretcher, loaded onto the helicopter and taken to a hospital.
The CHP has declined to reveal his condition, but Kilburn said on the flight over, Stanley gave him a thumbs up. He is hopeful Stanley will make a full recovery.
Stanley, 40, was one of two officers called out to pick up Kilburn, who said he suffered his broken leg when his dog nudged him after a long hike and he landed awkwardly. He was able to contact the CHP with the help of a camp group from Santa Cruz that had access to a satellite radio, he said.
The helicopter landed on a granite rock next to a steep embankment. As Stanley started to climb up the embankment to reach Kilburn, he was hit by the aircraft's rotor blades, CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick said.
"It was a very remote area with basically sheer cliffs, granite and treacherous terrain," Fredrick said.
Bryce Harbert, 20, a camp counselor from Santa Cruz, was among the first people to reach Stanley and helped Kilburn treat him. He said he was worried Stanley's skull fracture would result in death because the injury occurred in the wilderness.
The CHP has credited Kilburn with saving Stanley's life. But Kilburn said he couldn't have done it without Harbert, another hiker with the camp group, Elizabeth Fitch, and his friend, Dan Grasso.
And a part of him still feels guilty, he said.
"This never would have happened if I hadn't broken my leg," he said. "But I'm also proud that I represented the military well, the Air Force well."