All things are possible


I have not been a stranger to EMS. I started in 1973 and was one of the founders of the Florence County Rescue Squad, serving as president for many years.

It has always been my passion, working most of my life as a paramedic. I got into instruction and taught at all levels. I have had hundreds of students and still know most of their names. It became my desire to bring the services we just expect to regions of need.

I have traveled through most of Europe but found the greatest needs in Africa and South America.

I spent a great deal of time in Hermosillo, Mexico and became an honorary member of their fire and rescue.

It was where 278 children burnt to death in a day care because they lacked firefighting equipment to enter the building. I was in Alamos, Mexico where a flash flood killed over 600 in the middle of the night.

They were the poorest of the poor and the response was a backhoe sent in to bury the dead in the riverbed where they were found.

I found my greatest fulfillment in Peru and especially Bolivia. The volunteers in Cochabamba were like none other I have experienced. You could put all their equipment in a five gallon bucket and they service three and a half million people. Working with them goes beyond words.

I spent a month in Egypt during the revolution and immersed myself in Muslim life and culture. My greatest lesson being the news simply just does not get it right. I was treated with great respect and appreciation.

It’s not the people, it’s the governments. We all want the same things in life. I made it through heavily armed military roadblocks and traveled all of the Sinai and discovered the Bedouin people, so poor many live without money, yet loving and accepting. I followed the path of Moses from Cairo to the Red Sea to the top of Sinai where I brought back a piece of granite I had made into a cross.

I have been collecting used and discarded medical equipment to go back as I promised them I would along with dedicated students wanting to make a difference.

I was leaving for Uganda and Kenya in November where I have many connections. All that came to an abrupt halt May 26 when a driver turned in front of my motorcycle and struck me head on. My left arm was almost amputated. My right hand dislocated with the thumb folded back. My right foot came off to the side. My femur broke in five pieces and came through my leg. My hip and pelvis both fractured.

I had 12 rib fractures and a sternum fracture. I would later have a cardiac event and traumatic brain injury. I remember seeing myself and knowing I wasn’t going to make it, I gave up and quit breathing.

No one expected me to live. I have my own fatal accident report. It was the voice of a paramedic I used to work with that first brought me back, and the diligent work of a lot of surgeons and staff I likely will never get to thank, but I am used to that myself.

All my dreams and hopes came to an end that day.

I was even refused therapy and was forced to a nursing home as no one expected me to walk or function. I prayed every day to die. The conditions became so intolerable, I just up and left one day in a wheelchair I couldn’t even propel.

It was the help and support of a lot of incredible friends and co-workers that put me at an auction on Nov. 2, with a stranger I would later know as Bryan, when he suffered an acute heart attack.

There were so many things that led up to that event I know a greater power was at work. It was the first time I knelt down since my injuries, and my arm was still in a brace when I started CPR.

I want to stress this was not a lone action on my part. People were giving me things I was improvising with. A girl named Julie rushed in and identified herself as an EMT. My son Sam ran to direct the ambulance, Patty Borchardt of the auction service stayed on the phone with 911.

We all bought Bryan time until the Beacon people arrived with two units. The code went so smoothly it was like working with my own crew. Beacon did an incredible job, a rapid intubation and IV start with early defibrillation. All the things we were mutually trained in to the point there was little discussion. Bryan left the scene with a pulse and breathing on his own, from there on the Beacon paramedics and a lot of doctors and nurses deserve the credit, but they never get awards, it’s just their job and it’s expected. I am used to that myself, and then there’s HIPAA.

Two weeks later Bryan and I had lunch in Iron Mountain. I know he was trying to thank me, but it was I who wanted to thank him. We had more in common than we expected even family connections.

We both left the planet this year and here we were having lunch. Bryan’s amazing recovery has inspired my own. My progress has been incremental and my disabilities won’t just go away, but Bryan has inspired the hope I almost lost. The insurance company responsible for my accident won’t even talk to us and my bills are in the hundreds of thousands. It can get overwhelming dealing with them, but I am sure Bryan is experiencing the same feelings I have. All I can say is I applaud the people who saved my life and put me back together. To friends and co-workers who did everything from bring me food to make my firewood.

I know there is a life after this one because I’ve seen it. I know we all have a purpose if we pursue it, don’t let anything or anyone tell you different.

This is to all the people out there that took the time to learn CPR, became volunteer firemen and first responders, or pursued a career in the medical field with the true goal of helping others. You all deserve awards but they will come in a different form and I was proud to be part of that team.

Bryan and I still have a long way to recovery and I am not sure how or when that will happen, but for me it will be when I am back in Africa and South America with the dedicated people that became my family.

My cross from Sinai was broke in my accident and a friend repaired it with metal, seemed fitting seeing I am half metal. It is my constant reminder no matter what your faith all things are possible if we just have hope. Time (and some metal) will heal a lot of things.

Rich Koski

Florence, Wis.