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28 October 2005

Medical report of Richard Abruzzo

We all know that not everything went well during the last Gordon Bennett race. The text below is from Richard Abruzzo. We want to emphasize that this is not published because of its "sensational value", but because Richard asked us to do so.

To us it is the proof that Richard's medical condition is definitely improving! We wish him a speedy recovery and we hope to see him again very soon!


October 23, 2005

The flight had gone very well for 21 hours. We were very happy with our ballast situation and the tracks to the northeast that we were able to maintain. After flying all day in stable air we were caught by a very severe down draft at about 3:30 pm. Despite our best efforts to arrest the descent we hit the top ground wire (non-energized) of a set of power lines on the south side of a farm road in southwest Kansas. They were of course the only power lines for miles. The wind was blowing approximately 35 to 40 knots at the surface. According to Carol we were momentarily hung up on the line and I was trying to jostle the gondola free when the line snapped. The balloon then began to climb and move north rapidly across the farm road as the gondola pitched violently as much as 60 degrees. Carol was thrown against the side rail and hit her head and I was ejected from the gondola. I have no memory of the downdraft, the contact with the line or my fall.

Carol did not see me fall. I woke up alone in the edge of the cornfield on the north side of the road. Because the balloon was climbing after the line broke, we estimate by the time it reached the north side of the road where I fell, that I was ejected from 30 to 40 feet. Maybe 30 minutes later (we don't really know how long for sure) I regained consciousness. I came to and gathered up some equipment and started to walk to a nearby farmhouse only thinking I had a badly broken wrist. I was most likely in shock. Turns out I also had a fractured pelvis, internal bleeding, broken ribs, severe neck whiplash, a leg injury that caused blood clots in my lower left leg and a concussion which explains my total amnesia of the incident.

I was picked up by the electric company linesman coming to fix the damage to the power lines. They let me use their phone to call my wife, the command center and my brother. They then intercepted an ambulance that was coming for me and I was taken to a small hospital in Ulysses, Kansas where I was then transported to Garden City, Kansas where I had a surgery to stabilize the wrist (an external rod like Frankenstein). My wife Nancy, her brother and my brother flew in up in a small plane and made it to the hospital in Garden City before I did. After two days in Kansas I was flown by an air ambulance plane to Albuquerque where I had a second surgery on the wrist (4 hours) to remove the rod and put all the pieces in the right place. The end of my radius was shattered and they used a plate and 13 screws to put it back together. At that point we thought it was time for me to start my recovery.

Two days after the second wrist surgery I took a major turn for the worse. This happened on Saturday the 8th, the day of the Gordon Bennett Awards Banquet. They are not exactly sure why it happened but my lungs filled with fluid and they moved me into intensive care where I stayed for four days. The doctors told me it was a life threatening situation and it felt like it - I could hear and feel gurgling in my lungs and I could only take shallow, choppy breaths. It was a very frightening time and there was a point where it was for sure out of my hands. They put me on oxygen with a full mask. They were giving me 100% oxygen and my blood oxygen content was only about 75% instead of a normal 96%. After 4 days of oxygen and medications I was in the clear. They are still not exactly sure what caused the lung crisis but are calling it an acute lung injury from the fall. Other theories are that I threw a blood clot or a fat emboli from a broken bone into the lungs or had negative reaction to the blood transfusions.

I was in the hospitals in Kansas and Albuquerque a total of 12 days. My wife slept by my side every night to help care for me. I am very grateful to be here. I have received 2 huge gifts - surviving the initial fall and the lung complication six days later. My attitude is very positive since I am simply happy to still be here. The hand is already coming along and I feel a little better each day. I have to use a walker for a month to allow the pelvis to heal. The blood clots will break down on their own during the next several weeks. I quit the painkillers cold turkey and am in considerable pain at times which prevents me from sleeping but I prefer the clarity to the drug induced haze that clouded my mind for the first two weeks. I now understand that my recovery will be a slow process. My body was extensively damaged and will take quite some time to heal. I will take it one day at a time.

Carol is doing fine. She did an amazing job. The emotional pressure on her was intense. When I was thrown from the gondola she did not know whether I had survived or not. She was able to mark my position immediately and call it in so as to get rescue resources headed promptly my way as she rocketed up to 14,000 feet. She then made a landing in a very lightly loaded balloon in 40 knot winds. The gondola inverted on her at one point and she was then ejected and drug by her foot for a time. She was pretty bruised and banged up but will be just fine. I am very proud of her actions under very difficult circumstances.

Soft Landings,
Richard Abruzzo

Posted by Marianne at 7:12 PM

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