ThedaStar commemorates 35 years of service in the Fox Valley, a patient’s story

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 2:38 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2021 at 5:33 PM CDT
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - ThedaStar is marking 35 years of providing medical aid to Northeast Wisconsin. In that time, ThedaStar has flown more than 15,000 patients -- most of which are cases like heart attacks and strokes. But, 30% of its transports are trauma related.

It was opening night of bow hunting eleven years ago, when Rich Steif suffered a traumatic injury. He says, “I had shot a buck that evening. We were parked alongside the road and just an accident happened where somebody had left the highway essentially and I was pinned between both vehicles.”

First responders from the Tigerton area got to the scene first, but it was clear Steif’s condition was critical, ThedaStar was called in to take him to the hospital.

“I remember walking in that ambulance and the horror on the caregiver’s face, like they were out of options, they didn’t know what to do anymore. They had tourniquets on his legs, but they couldn’t maintain a blood pressure, he was probably out of all of his circulating volume of blood. And hemorrhage is the leading cause of traumatic death and so we knew what our work was for us,” says Flight Nurse Pam Witt-Hillen.

The crew needed to stabilize Steif just enough to even fly him to the hospital. Flight Nurse, Mark Coenen says, “The patient gets his IV established, he gets medication, he gets an airway, he gets certain things done, that are life-threatening. Then, when we load him in the aircraft we do other things on the way. We may give more blood, we may do other procedural things but the lifesaving things are all done right at the scene.”

And in Steif’s case, according to those who cared for him that night, one of the best things he received was blood, something, that, at the time, was only recently made available on ThedaStar. “We had just started carrying it, I think a few days, maybe a week before. And I think it was the first time we ever used it. And in his case, it made the difference because, I think without it, it may have been a different outcome,” adds Coenen.

But Steif wasn’t out of the woods yet. His left leg was amputated, followed by his right, and he spent a month and a half in a medically induced coma. But, he was alive. His wife Autumn Steif says, “The care that ThedaStar and the whole system provided, it not only saved his life, but it saved my life too.”

The road to recovery hasn’t been easy, but more than a decade after the accident, Steif has a lot to live for. He says, “Eleven years later, at the time we had one child that was three and a half, two more are with us now, and life’s moving along pretty good.”

Steif and his family were always familiar with ThedaStar, and the work its crews do. But, but after his life saving experience, they appreciate the aircraft, it’s team and mission even more. He adds, “When they’re flying by, we know somebody’s life is changing drastically, when we see that, but then we’re also thankful that they’re in the air and on their way to them.”

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