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
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
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
"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."