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The Leader
 

A Life on the Mend

By Kerry Brophy
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2000, Vol. 16, No. 1

Tim Richter's last conscious thought was that he was skiing fast, probably too fast.

He can't remember what happened next, or the young man who saved him, or the next six months of his life. Richter, a ski patrolman at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine, crashed into a tree, shattering his collarbone and one side of his head.

This story spins out into a strange web of coincidences, beginning with a terrible accident, a young man saving another's life, and a string of events that linked them together again.

Dan Bergin, a graduate of a 1998 spring semester in the Rockies (SSR 9), was snowboarding last winter just as Richter shot past him and collided into a tree. "Man," Dan told Tim later, "you were skiing your ass off, you were flying."

There was no time to react, only time to realize that nobody else was around, and that he had to do something quickly. Dan's NOLS semester had included a section on Wilderness First Aid, during which students receive their WFA certifications. Dan was glad he had this training as he assessed the scene. There was blood everywhere. He carefully rolled Tim over, cleared his airway, elevated his head, and wrapped him in jackets borrowed from other skiers in an attempt to stave off Maine's -30 degree chill factor. Then he waited for 45 minutes by Tim's side until help came, monitoring his vital signs.

When the ski patrol arrived, Dan briefed them and disappeared. "Dan just faded into the crowd and vanished," recalls Richter.

Richter was flown to a nearby hospital. His fight to stay alive was just beginning. For the next six months, he would slip in and out of a coma and undergo numerous surgeries. When he finally regained consciousness, he was faced with having to reconstruct his memory, especially the events surrounding the accident. He didn't know who had helped him in those first few critical moments after the accident.

Richter had heard of a young man who was on the scene first, who quite possibly had kept him alive until rescuers arrived. Tim's cousin, an orthopedic surgeon from Maine, visited Richter one day and passed on a vital clue: his colleague had seen the accident and witnessed a young man saving his life. "I didn't need to stop," said the doctor. "This guy knew exactly what to do."

Weeks later, another major clue arrived: Richter was talking to a man who lived near his hometown, telling him about the accident, when the man turned to Tim and said his son had helped an injured skier at Sugarloaf. Tim immediately wanted to talk to his son, a 20-year-old named Dan Bergin.

Tim decided to phone Dan and see if this was perhaps the same person who had saved his life. But Bergin told him the shock of the scene left him with a thin memory of the details. He was sure of one detail, though. The skier had been wearing a black face mask. Tim hung up, disappointed. He had never owned a black ski mask.

Only days later, a friend on the Sugarloaf ski patrol said in passing, "I remembered something from the day of your accident. Probably doesn't matter, but it's all I recall. You had borrowed a black ski mask from someone that day."

"What are the odds," says Tim, "That the guy who saved my life lives nearby and that I'd run into his father?"

Since the accident, Dan and Tim have formed a lasting friendship. In fact, Tim has helped Dan get a job at Sugarloaf for the winter. "This whole event has a lot of aspects to it," says Dan's father, Jim Bergin. "We've all become rather close because of this."

There is one final, striking element of this tale. When Tim entered the hospital after the accident, doctors performed a full-body CAT scan and discovered a tumor growing near his hip bone, something that might have proven fatal if left undiscovered. Today, Tim is learning to walk again after surgery to remove the tumor. "I'm alive and finding so many good things about life," he says. His recovery, however, will be a long one: the accident left him with physical ailments that won't go away quickly.

Tim's grateful that Dan had such adept wilderness medicine skills and could put to use the things he learned on his NOLS course.

"If anyone else had come across this scene, who knows what would have happened," says Tim. "Even if they had tried to pick me up, I would have died. Dan knew what to do."


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