Maine Maritime student needs more than 10 units of blood to save his life

It’s a familiar scene across rural Maine. A moonless, rainy autumn night, headlights reflecting off the wet, leaf-strewn pavement. In this setting, Maine’s plentiful wildlife are especially hard to see. When a deer darted into the roadway in front of 18-year-old Thomas Spurling’s truck, he did his best to avoid it but hit the deer, then crashed head-on into a tree.

His friends got themselves out of the mangled vehicle, but Thomas was trapped inside. Someone called 9-1-1, alerting area first responders and dispatching Castine Fire Rescue. EMT Lance Bishop was on the second engine to arrive. Like Thomas, Lance was a student at Maine Maritime Academy. He took one look at the scene and realized two things. First, it was going to take some time to free Thomas from the wreckage and, second, Thomas was seriously injured and would need treatment from trauma specialists in Bangor. That meant Thomas was also going to need LifeFlight. Lance made the call for a helicopter and then went to work securing the landing zone in a nearby field.

The flight crew arrived just as the medics were pulling Thomas from his totaled truck. They helped put him into the back of the ambulance where they could assess his injuries and stabilize him for the flight. In the short time the clinical team were with Thomas, his heart rate went from being elevated, suggesting internal injuries, to dangerously slow. His blood pressure was so low it was undetectable, and they couldn’t hear any lung sounds on his left side. They started giving him fluids and medication to increase his blood pressure and then, suspecting a collapsed lung, used a needle to decompress his chest. When they placed a breathing tube, it filled with blood. Then the needle in his chest became clogged with blood. Both were indications of serious internal bleeding.

As his vital signs continued to decline, the crew performed a thoracostomy, making an incision and placing a tube in his chest to try and drain the blood that was building up. It wasn’t clear where the blood was coming from, but the best option was to keep administering fluids and blood and deliver him to the trauma team at Northern Light EMMC as quickly as possible.

At EMMC, the emergency department team discovered that the impact of the crash had ruptured Thomas’ aorta, the heart’s major artery. This type of traumatic injury is often fatal because of the uncontrolled bleeding caused by the rupture. In the first few hours after the accident, Thomas received more than 10 units of donor blood, including one given during the 12-minute helicopter flight. Fortunately, because he got to the hospital in time, surgeons were able to fix his aorta and stop the bleeding.

After a couple of setbacks and additional surgery in Boston, Thomas spent a few weeks at New England Rehabilitation Center in Portland to continue his recovery. Today, Thomas has returned to Maine Maritime Academy where he continues his engineering studies and he’s back to enjoying the things he loves like water skiing and dirt biking.
CREW MEMBERS - Castine to Northern Light EMMC
CommSpec Jeremy Bean
Pilot Greg Strzelecki
Medic Kevin Collins
Nurse Missy McCann

CREW MEMBERS - Northern Light EMMC to Mass General
CommSpec Terri Smith
Pilot Pete Cartmell
Medic Brent Melvin
Nurse Veronica Marzonie