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From critical injury to medical career

Local says his own experience helps him show compassion for other accident victims

Posted: April 26, 2009 10:22 p.m.
Updated: April 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Local E.M.T. Eric Hisey readjusts a gurney in preparation for his next emergency call. Hisey began working for American Medical Response in Santa Clarita after recovering from a critical neck injury he suffered in September 2006, while surfing in Zuma Beach.

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When Eric Hisey turns on his ambulance's lights and siren to respond to an accident or injury, he knows firsthand how his patients feel entrusting their lives and well-being to emergency care.

Hisey, 22, of Newhall, began working for American Medical Response in Santa Clarita as an emergency medical technician after recovering from a critical neck injury he suffered in 2006.

The injury occurred while surfing in Zuma Beach, Calif.

"An eight foot break came up on me, I started to duck dive it but it caught me, rolled me over, and ran me head-first into the sand," he said. "I bent my head forward and under and compressed the C-6 vertebrae. Under the intense pressure it burst and sent fragments into my spinal cord and out toward the front of my throat."

Upon impact with the sand, Hisey instantly recognized what had happened and discovered he had lost all movement in his left side.

Hisey was a junior at The Master's College majoring in Communications and planned to enlist into the military after graduation.

"I wanted to work in either the military or law enforcement, something very vocational," Hisey said. "I couldn't stand being behind a desk. Breaking my neck immediately dropped me from the military aviation program I was in and ended all future careers as a law enforcement officer.

"With my right side, I was able to reach down and right myself, pop to the surface and call for help," he said. "In the meantime, I did my best to hold my head as steady as I could."

Hisey's experience as a lifeguard helped him avert disaster as the first responder attempted to hook his arms under Hisey's armpits and drag him out of the water.

"I told him what had happened and he had four more guys come down and they carried me out," Hisey said. "One of them held my head as they picked me up. I was very fortunate to have that presence of mind. Otherwise he could have drastically altered the outcome of the injury."

Paramedics immobilized Hisey on a spine board and transported him to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"They put me into surgery, which was supposed to be a four-hour surgery, but stretched into seven hours," Hisey said. "They found irreparable damage so they picked out all the bone fragments and put in a replacement vertebra."

After Hisey received treatment at UCLA for two weeks, he was flown to Salt Lake City for two more weeks of treatment. Through intensive physical therapy he regained full movement of all his extremities.

"Based on the location of the injury and the extent of the damage, the doctors had no explanation for why I was able to eventually get up and walk," Hisey said. "When I was in Salt Lake City, there was a guy who had the same injury as me and he was completely paralyzed from the neck down."

When Hisey returned to college for the spring school semester, he was forced to reevaluate his planned career path.

"I never intended to go to college for the purpose of getting a job in my degree field," he said. "I was faced with that prospect and so I looked into Emergency Medical Services. It was fast-paced, required a good degree of skill and discipline, and it was a vocational environment."

Hisey graduated from The Master's College in May 2008 and enrolled in the E.M.T. program at College of the Canyons. He began working as a certified E.M.T. on board an ambulance in July 2008.

Hisey's experience on the receiving end of EMS helps him give sympathetic care to his patients, he said.

"Knowing that I was saved from something critical like that allows me to give them a compassionate response, to show them that there's hope that they can move on from this," he said.

Hisey's full recovery was a reality check and made him realize what's important in life, he said.

"I know for a fact it definitely wasn't on my own power that I did any of this," Hisey said. "I believe in a gracious, loving God who has been by my side because there's no medical explanation for why I'm fully functional. I can run. I can sprint. I can jump. I give glory to God for sparing my life and bringing me this far."

Hisey plans to marry his fiancé, Brittany Heikke, in October and hopes to continue working in the medical field.

"I would love to go on, get my paramedic license and go into advanced health care," he said. "I don't know if that's possible but I'd hate to leave this job because I absolutely love it."


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