Lifesaving medical transportation

What started out as an "ordinary workday" quickly turned into a life-threatening situation for Tony Marbach of Manchester.

The 23-year-old Marbach is a heavy equipment operator. On September 19, he and two coworkers were working on a drainage tile project just south of Ryan. The trench they were digging for the project was about six feet wide and about seven feet deep. Around 8:45 a.m. Marbach jumped into the trench to make sure everything was positioned correctly.

"The next thing I remember was seeing some cracks in the trench wall and it started to move," recalls Marbach. "I turned around and started sprinting out. Then all of a sudden I felt the dirt wall come crashing down and everything went dark. I was completely buried in dirt."

Marbach felt several of his bones crack from the weight of the dirt. He willed himself to stay calm but the pressure from the dirt packed around his body made it difficult to breathe.

"I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind," Marbach said. "I wondered if this was going be the last time I was going to see daylight. I thought to myself - was this the end? Was this my time?"

Meanwhile his coworkers were frantically digging to save their trapped colleague. Marbach heard them calling his name.

"There was a small pocket in front of my chest where I could see some light," recalls Marbach. "I took my left hand and pushed away about a football-sized chunk of dirt and they saw my hand and knew I was alive. That's when emergency crews arrived."

Emergency responders quickly and carefully dug Marbach out. He was finally freed around 11 a.m. St. Luke's Lifeguard Air Ambulance had been called to rush Marbach to the hospital. "I was amazed at how calm Tony remained as emergency crews worked to dig him out," said Deb Julian, St. Luke's Lifeguard Air Ambulance flight nurse. "As soon as the firefighters freed him, we quickly loaded him into Lifeguard and delivered him to St. Luke's."

Minutes matter
"The injuries to Tony's chest area were evident at the scene, and while we knew it would be hard on his lungs to lay him flat, it was critical that his back and neck be immobilized in case he had neck or spine fractures," said Vicki Petersen, St. Luke's Lifeguard Air Ambulance flight nurse. "Helicopter transport for patients like Tony is vitally important. He was very sick and minutes can mean the difference between life and death."

"Vicki and Deb were great," said Marbach. "They kept me calm. The entire ride in Lifeguard seemed to last only five minutes. Lifeguard is very important to my family. I'm not the first to take a ride in the helicopter. My brother, Matt, lost his arm in a farming accident several years ago and Lifeguard was called to transport him too. It could have been a different story for me that day if I would have had to take an ambulance from Ryan to St. Luke's. My family is very grateful to have Lifeguard
in our community."

"Anyone who has a trauma like Tony's - it's important you get to a hospital that triages him quickly with multiple specialists to address the problems right away and get him stabilized," said James Boddicker, MD, Internists PC "This immediate care will get him on the right road to recovery and minimize secondary problems that might arise from the trauma."

Doctors determined Marbach had six broken ribs, a separated right shoulder, several fractured bones around his left eye, broken collar bones and a collapsed lung.

"Tony is pretty lucky he had someone working with him who knew how to get him out quickly," said Dr. Boddicker. "In a trench collapse they just get buried and can basically suffocate because the dirt just falls in quickly. It's also common to see crush injuries like Tony sustained because of the intense pressure from the dirt collapsing around him."

Marbach spent a total of 10 days at St. Luke's Hospital. Four of those days were spent in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Ongoing recovery
"The care was great at St. Luke's. They did a good job getting me better and back on the right track," said Marbach. "I had excellent nurses."

Marbach is working with a physical therapist and continuing to recover from his injuries.

"He's doing fine," said Dr. Boddicker. "He still sees Dr. David Hart at Physicians' Clinic of Iowa, P.C. Orthopedics for his shoulder and his ribs are healing nicely. These types of injuries take time to heal but he should be able to return to work."

"I want to return to work," said Marbach. "I just need some more time before I'm completely healed. Overall I'm doing great and I'm thankful to be alive."

Learn more about St. Luke's Lifeguard Air Ambulance