Nine out of ten people crushed as badly as Karl Hartman was don't make it. He was luckily in the ten percent that survived. It's a Thanksgiving story he shared in a conversation Tuesday.
To understand just how extensive his injuries were back in September 1989, consider that it was a heavy coal mine vehicle that flipped over and landed square on his back in the old Soldier Creek Mine. The weight crushed all of his ribs on the right side - "They couldn't count all the fractures," he recalled - then punctured his right lung, broke his back in three places, put a hole in his pulmonary artery and gave him a separated shoulder.
To complicate matters, when his ambulance arrived at Castleview Hospital, the emergency room staff was already working on another miner who had suffered a catastrophic head injury at another mine. "But the doctor decided that there was no way the other guy was going to make it and they went to work on me," Hartman said. "They stabilized me and LifeFlighted me to the University of Utah Medical Center."
The doctors there removed two thirds of his right lung and put him on a ventilator. He was okay for a few days after that, but then on top of everything else he developed adult respiratory distress syndrome. His lungs were failing.
"They told me he had only a ten percent chance of survival, but I had a flash that he'd survive, no matter what," said his wife, Loretta.
The Hartmans learned that doctors at LDS Hospital nearby had been doing some experimental work on the treatment for his ailment and they decided to give that a try. At LDS, they hooked him up to a heart-lung machine, taking blood out of his femoral artery, oxygenating it in the machine then returning it in a major vein in the other leg. This lasted for seven days and 72 units of blood.
When the medical team took him off the heart-lung machine and put him back on a regular ventilator, his lungs had recovered their function.
His was finally released from ICU the day before Thanksgiving.
That good news was even better for the Hartmans. For part of the time that Karl was in intensive care, Loretta was in the maternity ward, delivering their sixth child.
Karl eventually healed to the point that he could work again. Rather than return to his job at Soldier Creek, though, he decided to put his mining degree to work and to a supervisory job in hard rock mining.
His is now the chief engineer at Hecla Limited's Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho, near Coeur d'Alene. They dig lead, silver and zinc there.
Hartman says he gets around all right these days, 24 years after the accident. "Normal walking is okay but I don't do stairs very well," he said. Other than that, there are backaches now and then.