$3K grant helps Mont. ski patrol replace backboards
By Michelle Mcconnaha
STEVENSVILLE, Mont. — The Lost Trail Ski Patrol received $3,000 grant from REC’s Power of Change on Friday, and will purchase two Med Tech full-body vacuum mattresses to replace their long spine backboards often used during rescues of injured skiers.
Assistant Patrol Representative and Medical Skills Instructor Stephanie Mapelli said the Ski Patrol is thrilled with the donation.
“We are just jumping up and down doing the happy dance, it is so awesome,” Mapelli said. “Providing medical first response to injured patients is challenging given the outdoor setting in which we work. Having said that, patient care and comfort is of paramount importance, no matter what the weather or geographic conditions.”
A full-body vacuum mattress would take the place of a long spine backboard, which is what they use for injured skier if a spine injury is suspected. The problem is that a long spine backboard is uncomfortable and cold.
“As a medical skills training instructor, I’ve spent hours laying on a hard-plastic long spine backboard. I’m in a great deal of pain when I finally roll off the backboard and I’m not even injured,” Mapelli said. “A spinal injury patient strapped to a backboard is often on it for more than two hours, their injuries are very painful and are made more so by being strapped to this hard-plastic backboard.”
A full-body vacuum mattress is in the shape of a body with many handles on both sides for ease of carrying the patient and color-coded straps to hold the patient in place. Similar to a bean bag of the 1970s era that is full of small Styrofoam beans, the patient is placed on the mattress and the air is removed so the beans conform to the patient’s body.
“They are totally immobilized, comfortable and warm,” Mapelli said. “If the patient is in the position of comfort — let’s say they are laying on their side and they are in so much pain they don’t want us to move them, we can vacuum them in that position on this mattress.”
She explained that patients with scoliosis cannot lay on their back because the spine has a big curve so the patient can have their knees up, like a tent, then the vacuum mattress can be placed under their knees and be vacuumed to hold knees in place. Then the patient can be placed on their back.
“The Power of Change will help us buy two full-body vacuum mattresses but we also have them for your arms and for your legs,” Mapelli said. “We call those extremity splints. It’s the same idea and it is so much more comfortable for the patient who is more than likely in terrible pain. They are still in pain but not in as bad of pain as they were before.”
The Lost Trail Ski Patrol will use the $3,000 grant to purchase two Med Tech Sweden full-body vacuum mattresses, each with an aluminum vacuum pump and carrying case allowing for better care of injured patients.
“I’ve been a patient during training and can report first hand these vacuum mattresses are very comfortable, they mold to the patient’s body, and help keep the patient warm,” Mapelli said. After an accident, the Lost Trail Ski Patrol will place an injured skier on a vacuum mattress, immobilize them, and then transport them via a toboggan to the base patrol shack. The patient will remain stabilized in the vacuum mattress all the way to the hospital via Life Flight or an ALS ambulance with a paramedic.
“If we’ve put you in a vacuum mattress either Life Flight has been called or an ALS ambulance with a paramedic because you’re hurt bad,” Mapelli said. “They can stay in this to the hospital where they have their own protocols. Once you’re in it, you’re in it — probably a good two hours. We want to immobilize from your hip through your head and this does it so well.”
According to the Med Tech website, “The Vacuum Spine Board (VSB) offers quick, comfortable, and easy full-body immobilization for suspected spine, pelvic, or hip fractures and multiple-fracture patients.”
Mapelli said the Power of Change grant is appreciated.
“It is so awesome, their grant allows us to up our patient care,” Mapelli said. “I always say, ‘We arrive on scene well prepared and well trained — when you need us the most.’ This grant means we are absolutely going to do that.”
The two Med Tech full-body vacuum mattresses may be in the hands of the Lost Trail Ski Patrol in two weeks.
“We’re spending the money as soon as we get it,” Mapelli said. “These are unbelievable.”
The grant is from the Power of Change Program which is a community outreach program funded by Ravalli Electric Cooperative (REC) members. Members contribute by rounding up their electric bill payments each month to the nearest dollar.
REC Communications Melissa Greenwood said the Power of Change board just met for the last time this year and granted the application.
“The Power of Change Board thought this was something Lost Trail very much needed and would be so helpful to anyone needing rescue,” Greenwood said.