Interview and guest blog by Jo Walters.
“First I want to start with my name, Jacob J Ashley. I have been certified as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver for more than one and a half years. I’m also Enriched Air/Nitrox certified and this spring I was able to complete the Rescue Diver course through Bluefin Diving, run by John Ashley (no relationship of mine). However on 9 August 2015, I was in a rather bad motorcycle accident in which I nearly completely severed my left leg just below the knee. This was obviously not a diving related accident, nonetheless, the EFR training I received along with the course is what I believe saved me from losing my leg. The training for self-rescue took control in a manner that is still astonishing to me and have no words to describe how grateful I am for the knowledge I received. So many thanks to the PADI team for offering this type of practical training.”
Not long ago, diving became the love of my life. I never expected it to save it.
– Jacob Ashley
This was the letter PADI diver and Emergency First Response (EFR) provider Jacob Ashley wrote in to PADI to describe how he used his EFR training to save his own life – and his leg – in a motorcycle accident. Below, Jacob describes this harrowing experience.
Thank you, Jacob, for agreeing to share more details about your self-rescue with your fellow PADI divers. Let’s start with some background information. Please tell us about yourself.
I’m 35 years old, married for 14 years. My wife’s name is Stacy. We have two sons, Hunter, age 10 and Reece, age 7. I’m a career pipe fitter. We live on a farm in a rural area of upper New York State, where we have 30 chickens (for the eggs), 3 cows, 3 horses, 3 pigs and a subsistence garden. I love being outdoors and enjoy outdoor activities, including hunting, hiking, kayaking – and I strive to be a good person.
When and why did you start diving?
I started diving about 3 years ago when my cousin, Todd, who is an avid diver, came by my house one day and asked me to sit in on a PADI Open Water Diver class. I was hooked from that moment on and went on to complete the PADI Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver courses.
The Rescue Diver course got me excited about getting into top physical condition and motivated me to run. During that course, one area I found lacking was my air consumption – so I was working a cardio program and had been running consistently for the several months before the accident. In fact, I’d say I was in the best shape I had ever been in the day the accident occurred.
Can you give us some background on the time and place of the accident?
The accident took place on a Sunday evening. I had ridden my motorcycle into town so I could take a 3 mile run on a trail by the St. Lawrence River. I logged the end of my run at 7:30 and then started on the road home. Keep in mind I was not dressed for motorcycle riding and had no protective clothing on other than my helmet. I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes. The trip back from town took about 10 minutes and I was just about a quarter mile from home when the accident occurred.
Can you tell us more about the accident and its aftermath?
I noticed a slower moving pickup truck ahead of me but there were no brake lights and no turn signal, so eventually, I started to pass him. At that moment, when I was parallel to his left rear bumper, he flipped on his turn indicator and made a sudden left turn in front of me. I hit my brakes, trying to evade a major collision. I steered back toward the right side of the road, but nevertheless hit the back bumper of his truck and was ejected from my bike. I remember sailing through the air, hitting the pavement and sliding into a ditch/depression at the side of the road. It wasn’t really a ditch, it was fairly level, which turned out to be an important factor in my self-rescue.
My Emergency First Response® (EFR) training kicked in immediately. I looked around to make sure that there was no more danger, no other cars coming at me or any other hazards. Once I established that, I remembered to assess the situation and take action. First and foremost, I reassured myself as I would reassure any other victim. I told myself, “Everything is going to be okay, but you’ve got to stay awake and you’ve got to keep your eyes open. You’ve got to make sure you’re not going to die in this ditch, because you’ve got a wife and kids.”
Then, I looked at my left leg, and it was gruesome. I don’t know if it was the impact with the truck or landing that I caused the injuries. The lower leg bones were completely exposed – the skin and muscles were actually peeled back from of my lower leg like a banana. My knee was completely blown out, with the ligaments and tendons completely detached and my leg nearly severed below the knee.
What happened next?
I was alone for the first two minutes and then a construction worker came up along. I asked him to call 911. Then, I kept telling him, “I need a belt.” I could see that he was wearing a belt but he didn’t seem to understand. Mostly, he was overwhelmed by my injuries and unsure about his ability to help me. I explained that I needed to tourniquet my leg and he eventually gave me his belt. I put the tourniquet on my leg and waited for more help to arrive.
The first police car showed up about five minutes after the accident, and the number of people at the scene escalated from there. About 45 minutes after the accident, I was flown to the Burlington, Vermont airport and taken by ambulance to Burlington Medical Center. On the way to the hospital, I was described as an “amputee”!
I was conscious through the whole experience, including the flight and ambulance ride. Once we got to the hospital, I was knocked out for about 8 hours but woke up with my left leg and foot still attached and I could move them and feel them! The doctors did an entire reconstructive ligament surgery on my left leg. In fact, the sports medicine doctor said this was the worst case of ligament injury that he had ever seen. I also had a large wound, so they did a couple of skin grafts, too.
You seem to have been pretty confident in your actions that day. Did you feel confident at the time?
I felt a lot more confident than that construction guy looked! But seeing my injury was pretty traumatic. If I were to describe my leg, I’d say it was a zombie leg. Every day I wish I could “unsee” it, but I’m living and coping with that.
Before the construction guy came along, I had considered climbing out of the ditch, but I realized that I had lost a lot of blood and there would be no guarantee that I could climb out without passing out. Plus, remaining in the ditch allowed me lay down flat on my back and with my leg slightly elevated, so I took that option. Really, all I could do was stay calm, not freak out, raise my leg and put a tourniquet the appendage as soon as possible.
What happened with the guy who turned in front of you?
He is the one who called 911. Evidently, he was driving like that because he trying to find a “pop-up” roadside vegetable stand, where people sell vegetables fresh from their gardens. He finally spotted one and made a sudden left turn into a driveway just in front of me. It was deemed a no-fault accident by the authorities and no tickets were issued. I certainly don’t blame the pickup driver, accidents happen. And now, I am going down a different path with my life – kind of a momentary detour.
How is your family coping?
My wife, Stacy, is holding up but it’s hard on her. She has a full time job as a medical assistant at a doctor’s office, plus the farm and two children to take care of – and now me, too. But I’m starting to get around better. In fact, my doctor recently advised me to sit down a little more often!) My younger son, Reece, always wants to be right here to help me. My older son, Hunter, is a little more taken aback by it. I’ve always been an athletic, capable person and he’s a little rattled by seeing me this way.
What’s your prognosis?
It’s been about 30 days since the accident and I was discharged from the hospital almost two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been dealing with the feelings of going from a very active person – running, diving, riding horses, taking care of the farm and farm animals, etc. — to not being able to do any of those things. Toss in getting off of all the pain medications and it’s been an emotional roller coaster. But I’ve come a long way and nowadays it’s mostly about healing.
It’s possible I’ll need another surgery. They were able to repair all of the tendons in my knee except one. I may end up wearing a knee brace. But in about 6 months or so, I should be able to walk pretty well. While my leg and knee may never be 100 percent, I’ll probably get about 85 percent functionality. My goal is to be able to walk into my doctor’s office a year from now and have him to say with pride, “That’s my patient. I put his knee back together.” I’m committed to being as proactive as possible with getting back to where I was. I still have a left knee, leg and foot. I’ve been given a second chance and I’m going to make the most of it. But I miss every activity that involved moving my leg. Right now, I can’t dive and I can’t run – I miss the trails I used to run on.
Also, there’s some question as to whether I can return to work as a pipe fitter because my job required hefting around some very heavy objects. So I may soon embark on a whole new career, too.
You’ll be able to dive again, won’t you?
Eventually. I may have to change up some of my gear for lighter-weight items and come up with new procedures for getting in and out of the water, etc. but I will dive again. I find harmony in diving. In fact, diving had become the love of my life – I never thought it would also save my life someday, too! I took the EFR Primary and Secondary Care course in order to meet the requirements for my Rescue Diver certification. If I hadn’t done that, I would never have been able to save my own life – and leg – on the roadside that day.