Standing in the starting gate, a myriad of thoughts can run through a racer’s mind. “Stay strong on my outside ski, focus, attack, and give that tricky blue gate some extra space,” are all reasonable things to think before taking on a challenging race course. What is seldom thought about on race day, however?
“I hope my skis don’t cut me if I fall.”
Last March, exactly that happened.
Green Mountain Valley School U16 athlete, Jonathan Davis, took a rather mundane fall racing slalom at Whiteface, New York. Jonathan straddled a gate during his race run, lost a ski, and slid to a stop. Nobody on the hill thought twice until it was clear that something was very, very wrong. During Jonathan’s fall, his loose ski sliced through his speed suit and long underwear and deep into his leg, severing muscle, tendon, his femoral artery, and damaging his sciatic nerve. Jonathan lost 7 units of blood that day and if it weren’t for the fast action of coaches who provided a makeshift tourniquet and compression, there’s a good chance Jonathan would not be with us today.
Jonathan’s accident inspired his mother, Shelley, herself a registered nurse, to become involved with the national Stop the Bleed campaign after Jonathan was asked to be the University of Vermont medical center’s spokesperson for their local outreach.
“About a week later I saw this news clip on this national program called ‘Stop the Bleed,'” Davis says. “I realized that this is so relevant to what we need to do for skiing because this is the piece that was missing, nobody knew what to do, no one had a tourniquet, no one had training, and this would be a perfect class because it’s comprehensive and it’s clear. It’s just like a CPR class.”
During Jonathan’s stay in the hospital, he was visited by Kelly Brush Davisson and her husband, Zeke, of the Kelly Brush Foundation. The Kelly Brush Foundation is well known in the ski racing world as pioneers in the realm of ski racing safety. The organization was founded after Kelly was paralyzed in a crash at an NCAA competition in 2006.
“When we were in the hospital, that’s when Jonathan asked me a question about Kelly and said, ‘How did she turn something so tragic that happened to her and turn it into this really positive thing?'” Davis shares. “At that point we weren’t really clear if Jonathan was going to have full use of his leg because his sciatic nerve was damaged as well.”
Over the course of that summer Jonathan recovered from his injuries and Shelley became more involved with Stop the Bleed, traveling to ski programs, schools, and first responders across New England, spreading the word and training people about the importance of this type of first aid.
“The course extracts this piece from basic first aid,” Davis says. “Some basic first aid classes don’t always go over tourniquet training and how to stop an uncontrolled bleed. This class focuses just on that, being able to identify what a life-threatening bleed looks like, the different ways you can apply a tourniquet correctly, how to pack a wound that’s in a junctional area such as your neck, or your groin, or your chest, or armpit — places where you can’t put a tourniquet on — and how to apply that pressure and all the steps you need to take to deal with an uncontrolled bleed.”
The Kelly Brush Foundation then stepped in and offered to help Davis with outreach and funding to help her message reach ski programs across the country.
“We wanted this to be Jonathan and Shelley’s story,” says Zeke Davisson, who also serves as the Executive Director of the foundation. “She researched what bleed packs are out there, what Stop the Bleed is, what all of these opportunities are and what we promised was that we can be the communications channel, the fundraising channel, and we can be the distribution channel.”
Through the Kelly Brush Foundation and the greater GMVS community, over $60,000 was raised last summer via a spin-a-thon fundraiser to purchase medical supplies to build out hundreds of bleed packs for distribution and sale to the ski racing community. Today, Kelly Brush Foundation is offering two free bleed packs to every club in the United States that requests them.
Still, Davis initially encountered some pushback from members of the community that still see accidents like Jonathan’s as one-in-a-million. Then, earlier this month, a Stop the Bleed pack may have saved another racer’s life.
On February 3rd at a USCSA competition at West Mountain, New York, Babson College racer, Victor Wiacek, fell during the first run of giant slalom and suffered a deep laceration to his upper leg. Thankfully, Wiacek fell nearby two Castelton University athletes, Kylie Mackie and Linn Ljungemo, who had proper first-aid training and immediately sprung into action, action that included the use of a Stop the Bleed pack.
In the weeks since Wiacek’s accident, awareness of the issue has exploded and the Kelly Brush Foundation has been scrambling to keep up with the demand.
“We just ran out of the first 450 that were ordered,” Davisson says. “Shelley would give them out at instructional sessions and we put up a request form on our website where every alpine program around the country could get two packs for free. We also sell them on our e-commerce site after that or if ski patrol wants to buy them we sell them at the cost of the supplies to us. We’re out of the first 450 and just took delivery for the next 500 and there’s a group volunteering to set those up.”
Looking towards the future, Davis would like to expand her reach to the rest of the country.
“I would love it if I could get out West and teach and be able to train athletic trainers or someone with medical experience at a club so they can then make sure that this is part of their yearly coach refresher course,” she explains.
In addition to becoming educated on how to properly treat an uncontrolled bleed, racers, parents, and coaches can invest in specialized garments like POC Layer, which is a ski specific cut-resistant undergarment developed for use underneath a speed suit.
For more information on the Kelly Brush Foundation’s Stop the Bleed program and to request a bleed pack for your club, please click here.
To learn more about the national Stop the Bleed initiative, please click here.