SAN FRANCISCO — A Nellis Air Force Base doctor who broke his leg while hiking in Northern California, then ended up saving the life of one of his rescuers after the man was struck by a helicopter rotor blade, said he still feels guilty about the incident.
"This never would have happened if I hadn’t broken my leg," said Maj. Jeremy Kilburn, a critical care pulmonologist with the Air Force who has experience treating brain injuries. "But I’m also proud that I represented the military well, the Air Force well."
Kilburn was injured Thursday when his dog nudged him after a long hike in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and he landed awkwardly. He was able to contact the California Highway Patrol with the help of a nearby camp group that had access to a satellite radio, he said.
The CHP sent two officers in a helicopter, which landed next to a steep embankment. One of the officers, Tony Stanley, was hit by the rotor blades as he started to climb up the embankment to reach Kilburn, CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick said.
When he learned of Stanley’s injury, Kilburn hobbled, fell and crawled about 50 yards on his broken leg to Stanley.
"Yes, you’re in pain, but this guy is dead or dying or something," he said. "All my military training told me I had to get to this guy now. The adrenaline just kicks in."
Stanley, who was unconscious, had lost blood, but that wasn’t Kilburn’s main concern. He was worried about the 40-year-old officer’s breathing, and he inserted a tube in the back of Stanley’s throat to help keep his airway open. He also directed another person to keep pressure on his skull.
Kilburn wanted to do a more elaborate procedure to secure Stanley’s airway but decided against it.
"I just had this thought that doing something fancy is going to get me in trouble here," he said. "Let’s do simple things."
When Stanley started to come to, Kilburn decided that was the time to try to get him out of there.
Stanley was put on a stretcher, loaded onto the helicopter and taken to a hospital.
The CHP has declined to reveal his condition, but Kilburn said that Stanley gave him a thumbs-up during the flight. Kilburn said Tuesday that Stanley suffered a fractured skull.
Bryce Harbert, 20, a camp counselor from Santa Cruz, was among the first people to reach Stanley and helped Kilburn treat him. He said he was worried Stanley’s skull fracture would result in death because the injury occurred in the wilderness 100 miles south of the Oregon border.
The CHP has credited Kilburn with saving Stanley’s life. But Kilburn said he couldn’t have done it without help from his hiking partner, another hiker with the camp group and Harbert.
Kilburn was back at work Tuesday in the intensive care unit at O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center at Nellis.
"It’s pretty amazing. He’s doing rounds and directing the ICU at O’Callaghan with a broken leg," base spokesman Ben Newell said.
Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers contributed to this report.