Chief ‘acted like a hero’ to save Steamboat woman
December 10, 2010
Steamboat Springs — West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman is being lauded as a hero after making a decision that helped save a 47-year-old Steamboat Springs woman's life Wednesday.
Michele Dunklin was driving back to Steamboat after shopping in Craig when she tried to pass a semitrailer on U.S. Highway 40 outside Hayden and hit a pickup head-on.
Rickman arrived at the scene shortly after 1 p.m. to find the pickup blocking the driver's side door of the Chevrolet Trailblazer with Dunklin inside. A piece of the Trailblazer had impaled her.
"I could just tell by looking at her just how critical she was," Rickman said Friday. "She didn't need medics working on her. She needed trauma surgeons."
Rickman said he has no regrets about the decision he made next. He reached in and pulled her from the passenger side of the vehicle so he, Dal Leck and Bryan Birch could get her to Yampa Valley Medical Center.
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It was possible that Dunklin would not have made it if they had taken the time to move the pickup, remove the door and cut the object impaling her.
"It would have taken so long that she may not have survived that sort of time," Rickman said.
He stands by his choice.
"If I had to do the same thing right now, I would not have changed a thing," Rickman said. "It was a terrible thing, but hopefully she'll survive."
Dunklin is in the intensive care unit at Denver Health. The two people who were in the other vehicles were not seriously injured.
"He acted like a hero," said Michelle Diehl, a close friend of the Dunklins' who is with the family at Denver Health. "He did what he had to do and got her out of the car."
The doctors at Denver Health also said YVMC doctors Allen Belshaw and Mark Hermacinski saved Dunklin's life.
"They were pressing upon their young doctors that the guys in Steamboat really and truly saved her life," Diehl said. "They did what they needed to do to get her down to the trauma center."
Dunklin is a longtime bank teller at Vectra Bank and married to Steve Dunklin, general sales manager at Cook Chevrolet, Jeep & Subaru. Steve Dunklin and their 14-year-old son, Zach, are at Denver Health.
"She is stable now," Diehl said. "No one will tell us she is totally out of the woods. Her body now has to kick in and do the rest of the healing."
The family has been inundated with phone calls from concerned friends, so Diehl has set up a blog to let people know how her friend is doing. The Web address is http://www.micheledunklin.blogspot.com. A fund is being set up for her at Vectra Bank.
Michele Dunklin has been kept mostly sedated, but there have been two encouraging signs, Diehl said.
The first came when Michele Dunklin woke momentarily and saw her loved ones.
"She looked over at the boys and gave them a thumbs up," Diehl said. "That's just so like Michele. She cares so much about everyone else before herself."
There was also a moment when Michele Dunklin briefly opened her eyes and looked at her husband, who repeatedly told her he loved her and told her to close her eyes and go to sleep, Diehl said.
Many of Michele Dunklin's organs are damaged, and she broke 22 ribs and is on a ventilator. She underwent several surgeries and is stable, but friends and family have been told to be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. Doctors said she will be at Denver Health for at least three weeks before being transferred to YVMC, where she could remain for a month or more.
Diehl said Michele Dunklin was resting Friday and another operation was scheduled for today.
"It's nothing but a miracle," Diehl said. "She's in God's hands. We feel very optimistic."