Husband rescues injured wife from Ticaboo Canyon with Love
What started out as an ordinary day of hiking on Dec. 21 turned into much more than the Ferron couple was expecting. Todd Healy works at the uranium mine in Ticaboo for Deninson Mining. He and wife Kellee and family live in Ferron. He has worked there for a year and their schedule is work eight days and have six days off. On Dec. 20 Kellee went down to join her husband for her birthday and they planned to do some hiking in the area. Todd said, "I wanted to show Kellee Ticaboo canyon. I had been in there several times, but it was the first trip for Kellee. The canyon has some beautiful scenery I wanted to share with her. I had the 21st of December off and we started hiking about 10 a.m. The town of Ticaboo was built by a mining company specifically for the miners working in the uranium mine. I live there in company provided housing on my days on, the town has about 32 people in it.
"This day we were headed into South Ticaboo canyon. I had been there by myself but this was my first chance to show Kellee the area. It was a new place for her to hike. We hiked into the bottom of the canyon and then took a break. And then as we often do, we separated. I wanted to make it as far as Lake Powell this day and we planned to meet up later.
"About 11 a.m. we separated and I continued to hike into the canyon, the lake was about five miles away and that was my goal. I would make it to the lake, then come back out and meet Kellee about 1 or 2 p.m. and we'd have lunch. When I got to the lake I felt a sense of urgency, that I needed to get back as soon as I could. Kellee was hiking in an unfamiliar area.
"I started hiking back up out of the canyon. I felt even more urgency, when I never came upon any of her tracks. I can usually tell where she's at and where she's headed from her tracks. As I continued up the canyon I found her tracks going up the canyon, but no tracks leading out. At this point I was about two miles up the canyon away from our vehicle and a half mile from the point where we had separated. I headed out of the canyon and I left a note for Kellee that told her to wait at the bottom of the trail for me. I knew she wasn't going to be at the truck, but I had to check. She wasn't there and I headed back down the canyon. I had left a stick on the trail where her tracks were. This was mostly slick rock where we were hiking. When I arrived back at the stick, I started my search from there. I realized she was down there somewhere. I used my binoculars and started looking. When I found her she had been laying there for three or four hours. It was now three or four in the afternoon. We are always well prepared when we go out, we have phones, gps, binoculars, guns, note pads, whistles and various forms of communication with us. I called for her and called for her and there wasn't any answer. I knew from this lack of response that she must be hurt. She's right here somewhere and she's hurt, so she can't answer me. It was silent, then I saw her, she was about 200 feet away from where I was. She was at the bottom of a ledge. Apparently she had got on a narrow ledge and hiked up the side, she got to a point and she slipped off, she fell about 50 feet. She was hiking along a north face and there was snow and ice. I started yelling her name and my first thoughts were, 'she's dead.' But as I drew closer she raised her head and I knew she was alive. I have had first aid training. She had quit bleeding, but she had lost a large amount of blood. I began assessing her injuries. She had a serious concussion, she had blood coming from her ears and nose. She had compound fractures on both legs and the bones were protruding. Her feet were almost detached from her legs, the breaks were so severe. She was in shock, hypothermic and these were just the apparent injuries.
"At that point I decided to deal with the hypothermia first. She was beyond shivering. I built a fire. I lay behind her and rubbed her. I tried to dry her clothes. I fluffed up the sand where she was laying. It was starting to get dark and I made a decision to go for help. I tried to explain to Kellee that I was leaving and going for help. But, she was not coherent. She didn't know she was hurt. I made her as comfortable as I could and left her by the fire. She was shivering now, so I knew she was warming up. I had to go for help, there was no more time left. I needed to get someone back to help. It took me a half an hour to get out of the canyon. Before I left Kellee, I took a GPS reading of the exact location where she lay. When I got down to the truck, I took a GPS location there. I got in the jeep and started driving south, until I had cell phone service. I had to drive about 20 minutes before I could get cell phone service. I pulled over and stopped. I called 911 and the call went into the Garfield County dispatch. I told them my location and they said the Bullfrog dispatch was closer so they transferred my call to them. A lady answered. I told her, 'I have got to have a helicopter to get my wife out. I went over her injuries with this lady, she said, she would see what she could do and see what's available. I told her if you don't get a helicopter to my wife, she won't be alive in the morning. She said, 'I will get one coming.'
"I told her, my wife is in the canyon, alone and I've got to get back to her. I gave her the gps coordinates. I headed back to the canyon. While I was gone Kellee had gotten into the fire and burned the soles off her hiking boots and the soles of her feet. She didn't even know she was in the fire. My emotions were running very high at this point in time. It was overwhelming. At this point, I knew I needed to detach myself from the situation at hand. I needed to deal with Kellee as an injured person, not as my wife. I was her rescuer it was my job to save her life. At that point I started to put myself in the Lord's hands. I became an instrument for him to work through to save my wife's life. I was a tool to save her life. I needed to get myself together so she wouldn't sense our dire straits. I would go and yell out over the canyon and then come back and get to work. She is the most dear person in the world to me. I needed to work to save her life. I made her as comfortable as I could. Her bones from her legs were digging into the sand. I made her as comfortable as possible, I built up the fire. I laid behind her and waited. It was horrific, seeing her in this condition. She was terribly injured, but she wasn't suffering. She wasn't in pain. I built up the fire, I gathered firewood. The wind started to blow and it started to snow up the canyon.
"When I was back at the truck, I brought up extra water and dry coats. I left my wallet out on the front seat of the jeep with my drivers license showing, so when the rescuers came there would be no question it was me.
"The helicopter had been dispatched and I learned later it had to set down three times and wait for the weather to clear up before it could continue. The state park service came to the trailhead where the jeep was parked. They waited there for the helicopter. They didn't come up into the canyon.
"The helicopter came out of Page, Ariz. and was the Challenger.
"By now it was 6:30 or 7 p.m. I was there lying with her. This was an amazing event. I don't consider it to be a tragedy, because the Lord and I were working side by side doing what we needed to do, to save my wife. I felt an urgency to leave again, to see if help was coming. It had been so long. I would leave for a minute and run out and see if I could see lights coming up the trail or anything. Then I would run back and check on Kellee. I saw a beam of light flash across the sky. It was cloudy and snowing but someone was trying to fly. Somebody is up there I thought, coming for us. I have a hand gun and I fired it three times. I blew the SOS signal on my whistle. I saw a flash of light in the sky. I knew people were coming and we were going to be OK. When we did get out, I asked the park service if they had heard the gun or the whistle and they said they hadn't. But knowing someone was out there, enabled me to stay with my wife.
"I laid with my wife in the canyon for another couple of hours, It was close to 10 p.m. now. I thought I could hear something. I walked a little way off to listen. I heard the helicopter. It was pitch black in this canyon, it was cloudy and windy. I just thought they are looking for me and my wife, they are angels from the sky. They are risking their own lives to help me and my wife. I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness. I was filled with an energy. I just started yelling. I showed them where to land. They landed the helicopter about 200 feet away from her. There was the pilot, paramedic and the flight nurse. It took them about 45 minutes to administer first aid and package her for flight. Classic Lifeguard 2 helicopter, piloted by Matt Stein with EMS personnel, Nurse Dave Baker and Medic Matias Quintanilla were those people involved in the rescue. They told me I did a very good job with her first aid and keeping her alive. They were impressed she was in that good of condition. It took everyone to get her loaded onto the helicopter. They wondered if I wanted a ride out, but I told them I needed to drive. I just wanted them to get my wife to help.
"I just felt when that helicopter came that angels were being sent straight from heaven. That was the single most grateful moment of my life. These people were going to help her, someone else was responsible and she was being taken care of. I had a serious breakdown at that point.
"The pilot asked me how long it would take me to hike out. He said he would have the park service wait there until I was out of the canyon and safe.
"They took Kellee to Page and put her on a fixed wing plane and flew her to Utah Valley Hospital. The helicopter was out of fuel.
"I wanted her taken to Utah Valley because it was the closest to where we live, After her first surgery there they realized she needed more care so she was transferred to the University of Utah trauma unit. They did a head to toe CT Scan and her skull was broken, she had a occipital lobe fracture. She had a C1 fracture, a cracked scapula, broken sternum, three broken vertebrae, six broken ribs, her left hand was broken, broken pelvis front and rear, compound fractures in both legs, both tibia and fibula. All of her toes were suffering from frostbite as well as half her foot. Her toes have been amputated and half her foot. She had what they described as a thermal burn.
"Kellee has been a nurse for 10 years. She is a very special person to a lot of people. Her spirits are high, she is glad to be alive. She wants to get well so she can hike and play around with the grandkids. It's been 19 days since the accident and she's had seven surgeries.
"That night I drove straight from Ticaboo to Provo. I called my Dad so he was aware of the situation and he communicated with the other family members.
"Kellee and I have four children and three grandchildren. Everyone came up to the hospital the next day," said Todd.
In answering the question, what kept him going that eventful night, Todd said, "It scared me, I couldn't picture living the rest of my life, knowing that my wife had died in my arms that night. I didn't think I could survive without her. I couldn't move forward. Not wanting to live without her is what kept me going. She is a beautiful, sweet person and I am fortunate to have her."
When asked how the events of Dec. 21 have changed his life, Todd said, "Don't take your loved ones for granted. I feel like the Lord walked up to the door that night and said this woman is special to me. If you help me she will be able to stay with you. I have more love and appreciation. Kellee tells everyone that I am her hero. She tells them that I saved her life. The doctors have been so impressed with Kellee and her positive attitude, that's one reason why they fought to save her leg.
"Kellee is so strong, her heart beat strong through the whole night in the canyon, I could feel it beating beneath her coat. She is my hero," said Todd.
Todd has spent as much time as he could at the hospital with Kellee as she begins a long path of recovery. They expect she will remain in the hospital three more months and then after six months she will need another surgery. It may be as long as a year before she can use her right leg.
Todd said the family is coping. He has one son recently returned from a mission and a 15 year old son at home. The family has had some good support from family members and friends in the community.
Todd reflects back often to his night of miracles in the canyon, there were several. Small things became so important that night. He said he had a head lamp that became lost while he worked on Kellee, so he was trying to hold a flashlight in his teeth and work on her, but then as he was fluffing the sand under Kellee he found the headlamp and was able to work more productively using both hands. The Healy's believe the Lord really was shining his light upon them that night as God and Todd worked as a team to save Kellee's life.