When the specially prepared racing Tesla spun off course during The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb practice session last month, Dr. Matthew Angelidis was ready.
As he rushed to the accident, Angelidis, medical director for UCHealth EMS, recounted the training he’d gotten days earlier. He knew to look for one of several red plastic cords designed to disconnect the batteries on the all-electric car and to pull it before attempting to provide aid to the driver.
When Angelidis and a team of first responders and safety officials arrived less than five minutes after the Tesla slid off course, they were relieved to find the driver standing next to his car, slightly shaken but unharmed.
“We were fortunate there were no major accidents this year,” said Angelidis, a self-described car guy who grew up around racing. “But another foot or two to the left and that Tesla would have gone down a 2,000-foot embankment called Bottomless Pit. The story could have been very different.”
UCHealth Memorial Hospital served as the official medical provider for the 98-year-old Race to the Clouds for the first time in 2020. The race is one of the oldest in the United States as well as one of the most challenging as competitors drive a 12-mile, 156-turn course reaching speeds over 100 mph.
In recent years, new technologies and paving brought higher speeds and the potential for serious accidents. Race organizers recognized the need to improve safety.
A partnership with UCHealth’s world-class trauma program was a step in the right direction for the future safety of competitors and spectators.
“We are striving to put Level I trauma center capabilities at 14,000 feet,” Angelidis said.
Those capabilities included pre-staging state-of-the art critical care LifeLine helicopters on Pikes Peak, having whole blood at the ready, and four UCHealth physicians, Les Moats, Clark Brewer, Nathan Schmoekel, and Angelidis, stationed strategically along the course. This team of UCHealth trauma specialists integrated with a stellar race safety team led by Judd Werner and Jimmy Chapman.
Coordinating emergency response across two counties and roughly a dozen agencies is no small feat. The goal: To reach any incident in fewer than five minutes, rendering aid with the quality and speed of other race series such as NASCAR or Formula 1, under the shadow of the austere 14,000-foot mountain.
The team met its goal by a wide margin, responding to eight incidents in an average time of less than four minutes. One person was transported by LifeLine from one of Pikes Peak’s highest landing zones with point of injury to helicopter liftoff in less than 17 minutes.
Like so many other things in 2020, The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was different this year. The race was delayed eight weeks and did not allow spectators or motorcycle competition. COVID-19 travel restrictions also reduced the number of competitors.
For the UCHealth team, the changes provided opportunity. Angelidis appreciated the chance to test new emergency plans with smaller crowds. The team adjusted to race needs, helping craft the race’s COVID-19 policy, providing virus tests for competitors and race officials, setting up hand sanitizing stations and distributing UCHealth-emblazoned face masks.
“We’ll be back next year,” Angelidis said. “I honestly can’t wait.”