Mike Knutson

June 26, 2017

He'd suffered life-threatening injuries in a crushing accident. When Mike Knutson woke up at Harborview Medical Center after ten hours of surgery and four days of being unconscious, he thanked the physician who saved his life - and got an unexpected answer.

Actually, the surgeon said, the first place that saved his life was the place he came from - the emergency room at KVH Hospital.

Flash back to the afternoon of February 6, 2017 when then 58-year-old Knutson, who lives in the Manastash, was injured. With a broken scapula and clavicle, a collapsed right lung and fifteen broken ribs, six of them broken at both ends so they weren't attached in his chest, Knutson found himself reeling from pain and struggling to breathe.

"I couldn't lay down," he says. "I was on my hands and knees. It was the only way I could breathe."

Medics from Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue responded, treated him at the scene and rushed him to KVH Hospital where a real-life emergency room drama was about to unfold.

Notified en route of Knutson's injuries, the hospital activated a full trauma response, summoning a coordinated trauma response team - including a respiratory therapist, additional nursing staff, and staff from laboratory, radiology and pharmacy- to the emergency department.

Dr. Frank Smith, the on-call surgeon that day, was waiting when Knutson arrived. Dede Utley, director of emergency services at KVH, was in the emergency department giving a tour to two board members, and witnessed what came next.

With Knutson sedated, tests and x-rays were done and a tube was placed in his chest to remove blood pooling around his collapsed lung. Immediately recognizing that Knutson needed a higher level of care than KVH could offer, staff began coordinating his transfer to Harborview, the only Level I trauma center in Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Other staff were busy notifying and updating Knutson's family.

When Knutson continued to struggle to breathe, a decision was made to intubate him and put him on a ventilator for the transfer to Harborview. Utley said one of the paramedics did the intubation under the supervision of a doctor.

Two days after he was crushed, Knutson underwent surgery at Harborview to have titanium straps placed on his ribs to hold them in place. Two weeks later he came home to Ellensburg where a friend spent several weeks caring for him.

Knutson is not a man who takes gratitude lightly. Two weeks after he got home, he stopped by KVFR to thank the paramedics who saved him. "Oh," one of them said, "I didn't expect to see you again." Then, Knutson went to the KVH emergency department to say thank you there. How close he came to death isn't lost on him.

"It's a miracle," he says. "I have to believe the Lord had a hand in this. There's a couple or three times I could have cashed 'er in. Things had to happen in the right way for me to survive.

"There's the EMTs who knew exactly how to handle me. There's the emergency room where they knew exactly what they were doing, placed the tube in my lung and got me to exactly where I needed to be. There's the docs at Harborview who did the surgery on my ribs.

"The right people where there at the right time."

Knutson, who worked as a tugboat builder and designer for 24 years and now owns a crane company in Kittitas County, hopes to return to work soon but says doctors have told him he may never fully recover.

While no one likes to see a serious trauma injury, Utley says what transpired in the KVH emergency department that day showcased how good it is. "I'm proud of how this event went," she says. "We stabilized him and got him ready to go to Harborview. It worked exactly the way it was supposed to work."

As for Knutson, he's impressed. "KVH might be a small hospital but it's a good hospital," he says. "People don't understand how good it is. They did a good job - and I'm alive because of it."

ab