After the motorcycle crash, the woman was sure she was going to die.
She kept saying so out loud.
Leann Krayenhagen’s husband, Scot, leaned over to kiss her.
“I think he thought it was going to be the last time,” Leann said.
But an amazing stroke of good fortune saved Leann. In fact, she calls the chain of events nothing short of “miraculous.”
A trauma doctor and nurse happened to be nearby when her Harley Softail collided with an oncoming truck propelling her 30 feet into the ditch.
First responders took her to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, now a Level I Trauma Center, the highest level trauma center in northern Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska.
“The quick response and the life-saving skills of everyone at the scene and the trauma center are why I’m sitting here talking to you today,” she said. “Without even one of those components, I wouldn’t be here.”
The ride and crash in Poudre Canyon
It was June 3, 2017, and Leann, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, was planning to travel to Steamboat Springs to enjoy a few days with her husband and friends.
As a new motorcyclist, Leann rode second to last in the pack, just in front of her friend, as they took state Highway 14 up the Poudre Canyon. Rounding one of the curves past the historic landmark, Mishawaka, Leann went to point out a deer on the side of the road to her friend behind her when, at the same time, a truck and trailer rounded the corner from the other direction.
“I’m not quite sure…” Leann’s said, her voice fading, “I was in his lane, and his front passenger tire and my leg collided. It somehow threw me, but the bike went under his truck. It was almost like God picked me up and laid me back down.”
On a dirt patch between two large rocks, Leann lay head down on the embankment, just feet from the Poudre River. Her leg was mangled and almost severed below the thigh. She was bleeding profusely, but she was conscious.
By her side almost immediately was Dr. Gabe Green, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth in northern Colorado. By chance, he had been driving with his family behind the truck that collided with Leann. Green’s wife immediately pushed the SOS button on the emergency transponder they always travel with in the mountains. Then she and her kids headed down to the nearest emergency roadside phone to call for help.
“I saw Leann out of the corner of my eye shoot off to the right, down the embankment,” Green said. “I thought I was going to have to watch someone die.”
But when Green realized Leann’s injuries were primarily isolated to the leg, which had taken the brunt of the impact, he was instantly relieved and thought, “We can deal with this.”
A few vehicles behind Green was Ben Irvine, a certified trauma and critical care nurse headed to work at Medical Center of the Rockies. Green directed Leann’s friend, a surgical technician, to stabilize Leann’s head and neck — Leann’s helmet remained on — and Green immediately put pressure on her groin above the wound. But the bleeding wasn’t stopping quickly enough, he said. By this time, Irvine was there, and the two looked at each other in agreement: “We need a tourniquet.”
UCHealth is helping lead the charge in Colorado by providing Stop the Bleed training to staff and community members. Free classes are available at many UCHealth locations. Register here by searching “stop the bleed.”
“Stop the Bleed training is much like CPR. When initiated immediately, the chance of survival increases,” Borrego said. “We are teaching people that they can intervene and save a life if they do these few things; stop the bleeding and buy those patients time to get to the hospital.”
‘Stop the bleed’ saves lives
Uncontrolled bleeding is the number one cause of preventable death from trauma.
“It can happen anywhere at any time to anyone,” said Kerry Borrego, trauma outreach and education program manager for UCHealth in northern Colorado. “There are some injuries that are not survivable, but ones to the extremities, if you can stop the bleeding within the first five minutes, you can save lives.
A life-threatening injury. The perfect team to save a life.
“Immediately when I looked at her, I knew the injury to her leg was life-threatening,” Irvine recalled about that day in the canyon. “The amount of blood on the ground and pooling in the wound was pretty significant.”
As medical professionals, Green and Irvine knew they needed to act quickly to stop the bleeding. After deciding on a tourniquet, Irvine ran to his car and grabbed the gym bags from his trunk. Inside was a compression band.
“We discussed how we would do this, and together we helped elevate what was left of the leg and wrapped the band around her leg,” Irvine said. “Dr. Green had a great idea based on how tourniquets are designed with the device to twist to make them tighter.”
Thirty years ago, experts frowned on teaching civilians how to use tourniquets, mistakenly believing they would cause more harm than good, Borrego said. But more recent battlefield studies have proven that, if applied early and removed in a timely fashion, a tourniquet can play a significant role in preventing death from severe blood loss, according to the American College of Surgeons.
“Direct pressure is often effective in the absence of a commercial tourniquet,” Borrego said. “If direct pressure isn’t working and you need to make a tourniquet, use a wide strap, approximately two inches, like a belt.”
A commercial tourniquet has a wide, self-adhering band with a windlass rod that can be twisted and locked into place to hold the tourniquet tight. A tourniquet costs about $30.
“It’s cheap, easy and requires very little training,” Green said about a tourniquet. He now has a commercial tourniquet as part of his traveling first aid kit. “Though it’s easy to learn, if you have someone that really needs a tourniquet, it’s going to look like a lot of injury, so that training piece is important. In the right scenario, you have to be willing to sacrifice a limb to save someone’s life.”
An exercise band doubled as a tourniquet
Using a climbing knot, Green made a loop in Irvine’s exercise resistance band and fashioned a small, strong stick to the band to allow them to twist it and make it tighter. They secured it several inches above the wound. Leann’s friend continued to stabilize her neck.
“I remember bits and pieces,” Leann said. “I remember having flashes, like I saw Dr. Green and Ben (Irvine), and I recognized them. I kept saying, why are you guys here?”
As a nurse anesthetist, Leann worked alongside Green and Irvine in the trauma unit at Medical Center of the Rockies.
By this time, Scot had realized his wife was no longer behind him on the bike and rushed back down the road to find a crowd of people along the roadway.
“Someone took his helmet and said, ‘Don’t look at her leg, but she needs you,’” Leann said. “He came down and watched Dr. Green and Ben do this triage assessment. He looked at them like: They didn’t learn this in their garage. Who are these people?”
“How many people are lucky enough to have a trauma physician and an ICU trauma nurse respond to your trauma at the scene,” she said. “And here they were from my facility. I’ve been responding to traumas for 20 some years. And now here I am, the trauma. It’s a surreal experience.”
Once the tourniquet was secure, the bleeding decreased. But Leann had already lost a lot of blood and needed to quickly get to Medical Center of the Rockies.
“The only thing I was thinking at that moment is that we have to do everything we can to save this lady’s life; she needs every little bit of help,” Irvine said. “And once we put that tourniquet on, you could see less bleeding in the wound and less blood being lost.”
Another ‘miracle:’ A helicopter also happened to be nearby
In another stroke of good fortune, a UCHealth LifeLine helicopter happened to be nearby after the crew responded to another call and didn’t need to fly anyone to the hospital. An ambulance crew transported Leann three miles up the canyon, where the helicopter was waiting to transport her to Medical Center of the Rockies.
As medics loaded Leann into the helicopter, Scot kissed her.
“He thought that was goodbye,” Leann said. “Then he had to go an hour-and-a-half drive on his motorcycle down the mountain, not knowing if I would be alive or not when he got to the hospital.”
Once Leann was safely on her way to the hospital, Irvine headed to his ICU shift at Medical Center of the Rockies, where Leann would then, once again, become his patient.
“I don’t know how to describe the feeling,” Irvine said. “I couldn’t believe that what we did for her enabled her to make it to the trauma bay, the OR, get fixed up, and start making a recovery. I got to see that.”
At the hospital, the trauma team worked fast to give Leann life-saving blood and tended to her leg and other injuries. Dr. Chris Cribari, UCHealth Medical Group trauma and acute care surgery medical director, was Leann’s trauma surgeon.
“I always said that if I ever had to be in a trauma, that’s who I wanted to be there, and that’s who was there,” Leann said. “But it’s the whole line of people. They all have their roles, and everyone has to be an expert at their role. You have the trauma surgeon, the anesthesiologist, trauma nurses, lab, X-ray, orthopedic surgeon, operating room staff, respiratory therapists, blood bank staff…
“It’s an intricate web, and everybody plays a role in it.”
Trauma Center at Medical Center of the Rockies
Medical Center of the Rockies has been a certified trauma center since it opened in 2007, meaning it has multidisciplinary physicians available 24/7 to handle acute adult trauma. Since its inception, the center has grown to include a residency program and trauma research. It has providers from 26 specialties that support the trauma center to care for injured patients.
On July 15, the center obtained its Level I Trauma Center designation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Medical Center of the Rockies is capable of taking care of severely injured patients,” said Christine Dummer, manager of Trauma Services at Medical Center of the Rockies. “From the scene of injury to the emergency room, and throughout a patient’s admission, our multidisciplinary approach and highly trained staff saves lives.
“Having a designated trauma center in our community allows us to save lives, and patients have the convenience of recovering close to home.”
In all, Leann got over 50 units of blood products.
UCHealth’s Garth Englund Blood Donation Center in northern Colorado supplies blood products to the region. Dummer said the trauma team is fortunate to have its donation center, having access to blood products at any given time day or night.
Leann spent the next two weeks in and out of surgery to repair the damage to her body. The medical team couldn’t save her leg, but their quick action and specialized skills — in and out of the hospital — did save her life.
“It’s something I won’t ever forget,” Irvine said. “And when there is a chance for me to help someone, it comes to mind. We saved Leann. It’s possible.”