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Brian's Aspirus Story: ‘For as much trouble as I was in that night, you guys kept me safe and as comfortable as possible.’

Brian Rayford

After a near paralyzing mountain bike accident in August 2017, Brian Rayford, of Appleton, Wisconsin, still takes time each morning to “wiggle my toes and smile with appreciation” for the expert emergency care he received at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital.

At the time of his accident, Brian was enjoying a weekend-long adventure in Copper Harbor, camping at Fort Wilkins State Park and navigating the world-class mountain bike trails the small northern town is famous for. It’s a vacation he’s been taking with his son, Mitch, and friends for the past six summers. But on that particular Saturday evening, he never made it back to their campsite.

While descending down Brockway Mountain through tight winding turns, over huge rocks and various drop-offs, something went terribly wrong and Brian crashed hard. The impact fractured his spine in three places (an injury known as the Hangman’s Fracture). Luckily he was within earshot of Mitch and friend, Seth, who immediately came to help. Lying on the unforgiving ground, Brian was in excruciating pain, unable to breathe properly.

Quickly realizing how badly injured his dad was, Mitch sped the rest of the way down Brockway Mountain to get help. Shortly thereafter, Copper Harbor First Responders were at his side carefully positioning him on a stretcher to remove him from the mountain. Then, he had a 30-plus mile transport to the emergency department at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital.

Doctors and nurses jumped into action, quickly assessing the extent of his injuries and stabilizing him for a flight transfer. Brian faced the grim possibility that he might not ever walk again and was in dire need of specialized neurosurgical care.

In a heartfelt thank you letter to Aspirus, Brian shared his healing journey since the evening of his crash. He said his world “could have been completely upside down” if it wasn’t for the first responders, Mercy EMS ambulance crew and the emergency department team at Aspirus.

“For as much trouble as I was in that night, you guys kept me safe and as comfortable as possible,” he said. “You had me bundled up tight.”

As unexpected and traumatizing as the night turned, not once did Brian feel like he was in the dark. Emergency Physician Dr. James Black “kept me informed and explained things as things went on. I was extremely happy with the care I was given that night. You guys kept me safe.”

In June of 2018, Brian returned to Copper Harbor to find and give special thanks to the first responders who cared for him. He even did a little mountain biking, but had to work through “serious apprehension and nervousness to gain some confidence back.”

“After this experience, and spending the past year and a half to two years recovering, I decided I still enjoy mountain biking, just a little less risky,” Brian said. “I’m still a little nervous, but that fades a little bit each time I go out for a ride. My son, Mitch, and friends have also helped with some of that.”

Brian is already planning his return visit to Copper Harbor again in 2019. He said he cannot express his deepest appreciation for the emergency care that set him on the path to recovery.

“If it wasn’t for everyone’s help, including riders I didn’t even know in Copper Harbor that weekend, this would have resulted in a completely different scenario,” he said. “It’s very humbling for me knowing things can change in an instant. I am extremely blessed to have my life back.”

Pictured: Brian Rayford (far left) of Appleton, Wisconsin, is seen back on the mountain bike trails in Copper Harbor in this June 2018 photo with his son, Mitch, and friends.

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