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Air ambulance service recognized for care of injured Mont. trooper, family

Trooper Lewis Johnson was a familiar face to the A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance crew and now he was their patient

By Taylor Inman
Daily Inter Lake

LINCOLN COUNTY, Mont. — Gravely injured after being struck by the vehicle of a fleeing suspect in a remote stretch of Lincoln County last year, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Lewis Johnson felt a wave of relief when he learned an A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance was en route.

Johnson was familiar with the helicopter’s crew and had seen them in action. They had responded to calls he had been sent on as a trooper, typically vehicle accidents. Johnson knew that the air ambulance represented the fastest way to get him into critical care.

What he didn’t know was that there was a crowd of fellow law enforcement officers and Logan Health staff alike waiting for him to arrive in Kalispell.

“I don’t remember a whole lot about the helicopter ride, just the takeoff and the landing,” Johnson said. “And then there’s just an unbelievable amount of law enforcement at the hospital that greeted me between the A.L.E.R.T. helipad and entrance to the emergency room.”

His experience with their team will be highlighted during the 46th annual A.L.E.R.T. banquet in Kalispell on Saturday night, a fundraising event for the service that has responded to more than 20,000 calls since its inception in 1975.

Kate Johnson, Lewis’ wife and fellow Highway Patrol trooper, was able to see him right before the air ambulance took him to Kalispell. She didn’t know the extent of his injuries but could see he had suffered trauma to his face. She could also see where the tire went over his torso, she said.

They later learned that Lewis’ T7 vertebrae had been dislocated, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he’d be able to walk again. His left shoulder and all but two of his ribs were broken; his right lung, liver and stomach were all in bad shape, too.

Kate Johnson prayed along the way to Kalispell, hoping that her husband’s vitals would remain stable during the flight. She had recently worked with flight nurse and medic Reece Roat and Leon DeJong and knew they were doing everything they could for her husband.

“One instance was on a pretty difficult call with an intoxicated male and those two just took charge, so I was confident in their abilities,” Kate Johnson said. “But so many times we send people in a helicopter and their vitals just tank, so I was just really worried if Lewis would stay stable.”

Staff at Logan Health in Kalispell knew Lewis Johnson was on his way and were prepared to jump to action upon his arrival. Critical care physician and nocturnal intensivist Bethany Weiler said that there was additional urgency behind the situation given his status as a trooper.

“There is a long and deep relationship between law enforcement and health care workers, and a sense of duty to each other in times of crisis, and we especially wanted to ensure that our staff was ready and equipped to deliver excellent care to Trooper Johnson,” Weiler said in a statement.

Kate Johnson said the family received the staff’s full attention and support as they navigated her husband’s recovery. Friend and Logan Health Surgical Services Lead Marsha Lyles was waiting for them to arrive that night. Lyles is tied deeply into the law enforcement community; her husband is a lieutenant with Montana Motor Carrier Services, her son works as a corrections officer and her daughter serves as a Montana Highway Patrol trooper.

“She knows a lot of people, a lot of different doctors. So she ultimately just coordinated everything for us and got us in touch with the right people — she was there every day and any questions I had she would get them answered,” Kate Johnson said. “I mean, I would go home at the end of the night, I would worry about Lewis and she would show up early and check on him and give me a report. So that was wonderful to have her.”

She remembered how Dr. Erik Peltz sat down at one point to draw out her husband’s internal cavity on a whiteboard to better explain what was happening while Lewis Johnson was in a three-day coma following the incident. He followed up a few days later to walk the family through where they were at with each of his injuries.

Lewis Johnson said everyone on his care team at Logan Health was great.

“From the doctors and nurses to the people cleaning the room, they all were incredible. I never felt like they were just putting in time. It really felt like they cared,” he said.

Lewis Johnson remained at Logan Health until Feb. 28, when he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver for their neurological specialty care program. A procession of law enforcement vehicles guided him from Logan Health in Kalispell to the A.L.E.R.T. plane at Glacier Park International Airport. The air ambulance service also provides a fixed-wing aircraft to taxi patients to out-of-state hospitals.

Kate Johnson said they requested that Roat and DeJong were on that flight with them to Denver, and the A.L.E.R.T. team made it happen, even accommodating their son Ryder, letting him sit next to his dad for the flight.

“They’re the only guys I want flying Lewis and you know they’re so professional. They showed up the day before and just clearly outlined what we could expect, how and what we needed to prepare. They also made it possible for Ryder and I to be on the flight so we did not have to fly commercial,” Kate Johnson said.

She said the team helped keep the family at ease while they looked ahead toward Lewis Johnson’s long road to recovery.

“After we landed in Denver, the pilot Pete comes back and he’s interacting with our son and he gives Ryder a hat. So now we joke that pilot Pete is our personal pilot,” Kate Johnson said. “They had taken what was a very scary, traumatic experience and just turned it into a beautiful story, that they got us to our final destination quickly, safely and kept us together.”

The A.L.E.R.T. team’s care of Lewis solidified what Kate Johnson knew to be true of the ambulance service — that their speed and attention to detail saves lives. She said she’s seen them land on a scene before a ground ambulance arrives, time saved that is particularly important when they are responding to calls in remote areas.

“If it’s in the West Kootenai, if it’s down Montana 37, they can be there in 20 to 30 minutes, it’s impressive,” Kate Johnson said. “The patient gets loaded up as quickly as possible and sometimes they make it back to Logan Health, rolling into an ER within 60, 70, 80 minutes, which is kind of unheard of given how remote the greater Eureka area is.”

All proceeds from Saturday’s A.L.E.R.T. Banquet support the program by providing the flight team with the resources and equipment needed to continue saving lives and helping patients. The fundraiser takes place April 20 at the Trade Center Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell, running from 5:30 to 11 p.m.

This year’s theme is “Pony Up.” Tickets are $175 per person and include a hosted cocktail hour for mingling, a buffet dinner and live musical entertainment. There will also be the opportunity to bid on unique items, art and experiences in live and silent auctions.

Tickets can be purchased at

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