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Take Me to EIRMC: Matt Berry

Matt Berry
Posted on: 09/06/2023
“It’s hard to explain, but at EIRMC, they made it feel like a weird resort for me. They kept me motivated, they were always around when I needed something, and they took care of us,” Matt said.

Matt Berry has rock climbed along the world’s most treacherous mountains. This was not his first rodeo …but it wasn’t a cake walk either. The Grand Traverse spans 18 miles, gains 12,000 feet elevation and summits seven major peaks. On a blue bird morning in August, Matt set out to complete the adventure in a single day.

For safety and success, Matt brought along his trusted climbing partner, state-of-the-art equipment and his hard-earned skills. Little did he know, those three elements would prove essential to his survival and recovery.

After repelling into an area called Koven Knotch, Matt packed away his rope and began scrambling. That’s when the unthinkable happened. His foot slipped on a tiny area of unseen ice.

“The mechanisms of how I fell is equivalent to slipping on the sidewalk and falling on your butt,” Matt said. “It was a freak accident; and once I hit that ice, I moved pretty fast.”

Matt plunged headfirst down the mountainside, falling approximately 600 feet while smashing into rocks and bouncing off ice. When he finally landed, he lay 15 feet shy of a 2,500-foot-tall cliff into the cascade canyon.

“Lucky for me, I didn’t go for the big ride,” Matt said.

Though lucky to be alive, Matt knew he was seriously injured. He yelled to his partner to call for a rescue helicopter, then began assessing his body. Matt saw a degloved arm, a 3-inch-wide hole in his left leg, an exposed, broken left hip, as well as bones sticking out of his ankle. He also felt internal bleeding, as his liver was lacerated.

“I knew I had 10 to 15 minutes of adrenaline before my body went into shock, so I quickly got out my first aid kit and wrapped my arm and leg to stop the bleeding. Then I put on the warmest clothes I had,” Matt said, with matter-of-fact logic.

Next, Matt settled into meditative breathing to calm his body and mind as he waited for an emergency rescue team. It was about 9:30 a.m. and the sun’s rays warmed his face. The soft heat also melted snow and ice, dislodging two microwave-sized blocks of granite that suddenly plummeted toward Matt. One barely missed his face. The other landed on his leg, blowing open a new hole.

About 2.5 hours after his initial fall, the Jenny Lake Rangers crew reached him. With one look at the exposed bone protruding from Matt’s hip, the team declared that Matt needed an immediate transfer to advanced care at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC).

EIRMC: Equipped for the extreme

As a regional hospital serving millions of acres of backcountry, encompassing everything from potato fields to Yellowstone National Park, EIRMC specializes in active lifestyle incidents. The hospital is also home to the most experienced ER and trauma team in the region.

The Teton County Search and Rescue’s team called for an emergency flight helicopter, which delivered Matt to EIRMC experts who designed a customized treatment plan. Within an hour, Matt found himself in surgery.

“It was a wild experience … I remember bright lights and three or four doctors immediately over me – and man they were moving! A lot was happening quickly, but I remember feeling calm because I was in the hands of professionals who had the gear they needed … That was a really good feeling,” Matt said.

During his surgery, orthopedic and trauma teams worked in harmony, aligning bones, reattaching ligaments, and cleaning and mending wounds. Matt left surgery with 70 staples, 25 stitches and hardware from several bones being set and stabilized.

The right people, place and skills: A joint fight for healing

“After surgery, the first several days were rough. I had a fever of 104 due to infections I was fighting, and pain management was a challenge,” Matt said. “But the nurses and staff were phenomenal. Not only did they tend to my needs, but they took care of my mom and my girlfriend who never left my side.”

On Day 2, though still battling significant pain, staff convinced Matt it was time for another big adventure: walking.

“It is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life. One foot couldn’t have weight on it, both wrists were sprained, and my other foot was sprained – but the team gave me a bear hug to get me up to a walker. I had to push through the pain, but that movement was crucial,” Matt said.

Wound care specialists also played an important role in Matt’s healing. With deep, open and complex wounds, fighting infections and reducing the risk of serious complications required advanced and customized techniques and tools – something EIRMC’s wound care specialists are known for.

“I attribute my healing to them. Those wound care specialists were really good at their job. They used various bandaging techniques to make sure my skin had the right environment for it to heal,” Matt said.

After just one week of trauma care, Matt had made incredible progress. With immediate injuries stabilized, his fever resolved, and pain managed, Matt entered EIRMC’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit. There, he focused on the next mountains to climb in his healing journey.

Acute rehabilitation: Motivated for movement

EIRMC’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit sits on the sixth floor of the hospital. Derrick Northrup, physical therapist in the rehab unit, told Matt that over the years, some patients have been able to walk down the flights of stairs to the first floor and climb their way back up by the end of their rehabilitation. With that, Matt set his mind to mastering the “stairwell challenge.”

“I couldn’t even make it down two steps at first, but this got me motivated. They told me there’s a technique to do it. I’m a climber, so they were speaking my language. I just needed to learn the right techniques to make the impossible possible,” Matt said.

To master those techniques, every day, Matt completed 90 minutes of physical therapy and 90 minutes of occupational therapy. Then, on his own accord, he added 90 minutes in the rehab’s gym. His commitment paid off.

“By the end of a week in rehab, I climbed the stairs for all six floors. On the last day, when I got to the top stair, I turned to Derrick and said, ‘I forgot my keys down there,’ and then I turned around and did the whole thing again,” Matt said.

EIRMC: A resort vibe with a mission to heal

Looking back to his time at EIRMC, Matt says the experience – though not wished to be repeated – was a positive one.

“It’s hard to explain, but at EIRMC, they made it feel like a weird resort for me. They kept me motivated, they were always around when I needed something, and they took care of us,” Matt said. “They went above and beyond, and we truly became friends. I even stay in touch with some of them. All in all, I feel grateful for how things went and the people who supported me.”

It’s been a year since Matt graduated from EIRMC’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit. Thanks to the people, place, cutting-edge treatments and his newly acquired skills, Matt’s body made a tremendous recovery. Today, Matt can be found navigating, climbing and summiting the world’s majestic mountain ranges once again.

It’s clear that both EIRMC and Matt rock at climbing mountains of healing.

Matt Berry
Posted on: 09/06/2023

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