Paul’s Story: Skydiver Survives Multiple Jump Injuries

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Paul Rizzo is not new to sky diving. Highly experienced, he is very knowledgeable and knows how to handle every jump. But on May 12, 2018, Paul was caught off-guard – his parachute didn’t open. 

“Paul is my ex-husband,” says Kelly McLean. “We actually met because of a good friend of mine who sky dives with him.” Kelly says that Paul had made “well over 1,000 jumps, probably closer to 1,500. He jumps on a competitive team…he’s done this for 30 years.”

Complicated Maneuver, Complicated Injuries

Paul was attempting a complicated maneuver, trying to skim along the ground, and the accident occurred when he struck the ground, explains Mary McCarthy, MD, FACS, trauma surgeon at Miami Valley Hospital. “He estimates going at approximately 100 miles an hour,” says Dr. McCarthy.

“His feet were straight out…his left leg probably hit first, so his legs take the impact. He broke his ankle and his distal tibia on his left side,” says Kelly. “His right side then hit, and he broke his tibia in two places.”

Within minutes, CareFlight Air and Mobile Services arrived on the scene and flew Paul directly to Miami Valley Hospital. The trauma team quickly realized Paul also had a life-threatening aortic injury.

Brad Hoops, BSN, RN, CFRN, CEN, EMT-P, clinical operations manager for CareFlight, says that when you are looking at signs and symptoms such as increased pulse rate, decreased pulses in extremities, and hypotension, they could be related to other injuries, as well. “What you know on the scene is that the patient is really sick, and that patient’s really hurt, and you’ve got to move quickly.”

The vascular surgeon on duty at Miami Valley Hospital, knew very little about Paul, except that he had been in a skydiving accident where his parachute didn’t open, and they were concerned about his aorta being torn.

“The aorta is relatively mobile in the chest, and when the body stops suddenly, the aorta keeps moving,” explains Dr. McCarthy. “Paul’s aorta had torn away from its attachments and that tears the lining of the aorta. Approximately 90 percent of these are fatal at the scene.”

Repairing Paul’s Heart, Legs and Pelvis

The vascular surgeon performed an endovascular aortic repair on Paul’s heart. By performing the procedure endovascularly, doctors were able to save Paul a lot of time and energy recuperating from surgery that he could devote to his other injuries.

After the vascular surgery was finished, Timothy Peters, DO, orthopedic surgeon, was able to wash out and clean the areas of bone that had come in contact with the outside environment.

“After we washed all those injuries out, he really improved, over the next four or five days,” says Dr. Peters. “Then I came back, I think post-trauma day five, and fixed his pelvis with plates and screws to restore the normal anatomy.”

Dr. Peters fixed and stabilized Paul’s tibia. “The opportunity for him to be able to get up and mobilize and walk would be better with a rod inside his tibia on the right side because of the complex injury that he had on his left side…it was going to be longer before he would walk on that left side.”

Paul’s surgical care was then turned over to the expertise of Dr. Timothy Peter’s brother, Paul Peters, MD, orthopedic surgeon.

“The lower part of the bigger bone, the tibia, was shattered in a large number of pieces,” says Dr. Paul Peters. “The talus, the bone that sits right below your major leg bone, was split into several pieces, as well. You first piece back together that talus, then work to reconstruct the ankle joint itself.”

Dr. McCarthy says that the complexity of Paul’s lower extremity injuries was unusual. “They weren’t just broken in one place, they were shattered,” she says. “He had multiple fragments and he had the orthopedic pelvic injury, as well as some lower spine injuries. The combination of all these is extremely challenging for patients to recover from because it’s basically everything below the waist.”

'Always, Your Goal Is To Have a Recovery Like This’

Twenty-four days after Paul’s accident, he left Miami Valley Hospital.

“I was very blessed prior to the accident, and I’m very blessed now,” says Paul. “Now I truly appreciate how blessed I’ve been my whole life. I’ve been married to a beautiful woman. I’ve travelled the world. I’ve done more than most people have.”

Paul says he accepted the thought that he was going to die when he had the accident.

Paul says that he had supreme confidence in everyone at Miami Valley Hospital. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else. The vibe I had, you couldn’t replace that.”

“A trauma center is the whole hospital,” says Dr. McCarthy. “It is the care of the patient from the pre-hospital area with CareFlight all the way through rehabilitation. To see that all working successfully every day for the care of every patient we have is beyond what I could have dreamed.”

“Always, your goal is to have a recovery like this,” says Dr. Paul Peters. “We have tools to provide that recovery. It’s just validation of what we do.”

Dr. Timothy Peters agrees. “The delivery of trauma care has evolved, when people make it to the facility and you have an opportunity to be able to manage some of their injuries, the opportunity that patient has to be able to get back on with their life is much better than it has ever been.”

“He needed to go exactly where people knew what to do and people were available,” says Kelly. “The resources were there. Frankly, everyone along the way did everything right.”

“I’m doing great,” says Paul. “I have zero back pain, zero hip pain. My legs are strong. I have some challenges with my left ankle. I should be walking without a walker [soon]… I’ll be dancing at my birthday, New Year’s Eve.”

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