'There is overall gratitude and relief'
Don Blakely knows he’s a lucky man.
Five teeth are knocked out and multiple jaw fractures provide constant pain, but he insists his encounter with a moose could have been far worse.
“According to everyone I talked to, I should be dead,” said the 55-year-old Armstrong lawyer.
“Compared to that, this is pretty good.”
Blakely, a member of Vernon Search and Rescue, was teaching SAR management at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops Jan. 17. At about 11 p.m., he was passing the speedway in Spallumcheen when the car ahead of him swerved to the left.
“I was starting to slow down when I saw something on the road, I couldn’t tell what it was,” he said.
“I veered to the right and I didn’t clear it.”
What he struck was a two-year-old moose.
“The windshield and the roof of the car exploded. The roof was peeled down and pinned me,” he said.
He’s still not sure why he did this, but as the car was collapsing, Blakely turned his head to the right. Had he not done so, he could have taken the full force of the collision and possibly sustained major brain damage.
“Turning my head was a piece of luck.”
With the vehicle moving and Blakely unable to see, he downshifted and braked just before a 15-foot embankment.
With the car sitting on Highway 97, he pulled out his cell phone and called 911 by feeling the buttons.
The first person to extend help was the woman in the vehicle ahead of him.
“She was holding my hand,” he said of Theresa from Armstrong (he doesn’t know her last name).
Within minutes, though, others were joining the rescue, including some familiar faces.
“I heard a voice and it’s my friend Rob Braun, from Kelowna Search and Rescue, with a friend. They were just returning from work,” he said.
Braun and his friend began directing traffic while paramedics and the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Fire Department arrived on scene. Jaws of life were used to cut him out of the remains of the vehicle.
Once again, he knew many of his rescuers because of his role in Search and Rescue.
“It was very comforting to have all of these people I know professionally there,” he said.
“There is overall gratitude and relief.”
Blakely was first taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital and then finally to Kelowna General Hospital.
His lips were stitched up and his jaw aches when he moves it. It could take up to a year for permanent teeth to be surgically inserted.
“I feel like I’ve gone 10 rounds with Muhammed Ali and then run over by a truck,” he said.
Blakely expects to ultimately return to his 27-year volunteer career with Search and Rescue, including training incident commanders. But he knows that his own experience will influence his future actions and how he instructs others.
“I have been in a stretcher for training but when you are injured and in shock, it’s a different experience,” he said of the need for emergency personnel to be compassionate and caring.
“What struck me was the genuine empathy they had for me. Now, I truly understand the nature of that thinking.”