When rescuers first reached injured skier David Morse on Sugarloaf Mountain on Thursday afternoon, he was conscious and alert. Less than two hours later, he died in the back of an ambulance.
What happened between when Morse , 41, of Nova Scotia hit a tree on the side of the Lower Timberline Trail just after 3:30 p.m. and his death just after 5 p.m. is now the subject of an internal investigation by Franklin Community Health Network, a group that includes both the ambulance service and Farmington hospital to which he was being taken.
Morse’s widow, reportedly a nurse practitioner with 10 years of experience in an intensive care unit, described the events that transpired over that 90 minutes as “a comedy of horrors.”
In Dana Morse’s account of the incident — first published Sunday by the Halifax-based newspaper The Chronicle Herald — the grieving wife said emergency medical responders were slow to treat for internal bleeding and, when she asked to hold her dying husband’s hand in the back of the ambulance, she was kicked out of the ambulance instead.
“He is dying and I know he is dying and cannot live with myself if I am not holding his hand,” Dana Morse, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, said she told the ambulance driver, according to The Chronicle Herald. “I can’t explain to my boys — they are 11 and 14 — I cannot explain to them that I wasn’t with their father when he died. … He left me on the side of the road in a snowstorm, with me then chasing the ambulance screaming my head off to stop.”
Dana Morse told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday she believes an investigation into the handling of her husband’s case will reveal it was even worse than depicted in The Chronicle Herald story, which she said was otherwise “completely accurate.”
“I will file a formal complaint to ensure the details are available for their investigation, as the printed details in The Chronicle Herald are not even touching the surface,” she wrote to the BDN in an email, adding, “I will not provide further comments [as] my focus is my boys.”
Carrabassett Valley Police Chief Scott Nichols said Tuesday that David Morse was able to tell members of Sugarloaf’s Ski Patrol how he lost control and crashed into a tree on a trail on the western side of the mountain. Nichols said police reviewed the incident, as is routine, to make sure it was an accident and not an assault — a determination he said investigators made easily.
“The best witness was Mr. Morse himself,” Nichols said. “He was alert and speaking to Ski Patrol, even though he was obviously injured. … Every situation is different. Ski Patrol does their best to secure the people and get them down the mountain as quickly as possible. From there it’s up to professionals to take care of the patient. Skiing is an inherently dangerous sport.”
Nichols said Ski Patrol removed Morse from the mountain within 12 minutes, and Dana Morse told her hometown newspaper the resort’s on-mountain team was “excellent.” But she claimed care for her husband unraveled from there. She said medical responders at the mountain clinic and the NorthStar ambulance crew were slow to treat him for internal bleeding, preferring to wrap an injured arm over taking blood pressure, listening to his chest or starting an IV despite acknowledging the likelihood of the unseen abdominal injuries, according to The Chronicle Herald report.
Dana Morse said she began to administer CPR herself when he went into cardiac arrest just before being put in the ambulance for the nearly hour-long drive to Franklin Memorial Hospital, a drive she said neither she nor her husband made it through.
Mark Belserene, administrator for Maine’s chief medical examiner’s office, said Tuesday the official cause of Morse’s death has yet to be determined, but he said he expected the evaluation to be completed this week.
In contrast to Morse’s case, the medical care and faster transportation provided by a LifeFlight helicopter crew is being credited as life-saving by the family of a New Hampshire man who suffered severe head and internal injuries in a snowboarding accident on the same mountain Saturday. Nicholas Jones, 24, of Bedford, N.H., was airlifted to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston after his crash, and despite breaking nearly every bone in his face, all of his right ribs, his pelvis and tearing his liver, is now reportedly expected to make a full recovery.
A call and email placed by the Bangor Daily News to Franklin Community Health Network Chief Information Officer Ralph Johnson, in part seeking information about the differences in the two treatments, were not immediately returned.
Franklin Community Health Network spokeswoman Jill Gray responded with a reiteration of a prepared statement.
“On Monday, we first learned about the press reports related to this situation that came out over the weekend,” Gray wrote to the BDN in an email. “We have launched our own internal review of what happened in this very tragic situation. Until we complete that review, it would be premature for us to respond to the allegations reported by the press.”
Dana Morse wrote Tuesday that she called the hospital and has been called back by a hospital representative.
“My sister spoke with someone from the ambulance company on Saturday, Jan. 14th,” she added. “She asked many questions and was provided minimal response except the supervisors name. I did call and leave a message for NorthStar ambulance and I have not heard back.”