On Jan. 9, Erwin Portmann, 55, lay as good as dead on the floor of Blackcomb’s mid-mountain Glacier Creek restaurant: no pulse and not breathing. He was in the middle of a massive heart attack. Under normal circumstances he would soon die in pain, leaving a grieving wife and the friends who came to Blackcomb to ski with him. Portmann's only bit of luck was in his collapsing at the guest relations desk at the Glacier Creek building. Portmann "died" at 2:14 p.m. Here is how he came back to life. 2:14 p.m., Friday, Jan. 9 — Blackcomb employee Emma Siossian is behind the desk at mountain guest services at Glacier Creek, at a hub of ski runs on Blackcomb Mountain, when a middle-aged man falls to the floor in obvious pain. He doesn't move. He isn't breathing. Siossian phones Blackcomb Ski Patrol and reaches dispatcher Stephany Smith at the main ski patrol base higher up the mountain near the Rendezvous lodge.
"I got a call saying 'there is a guy down here and we have people breathing for him. Could we have a patroller down here?'," says Smith of the call that triggered a total ski patrol response.
"She has often called before to have us respond to others who've been hurt," Smith says. "Emma was very calm and set the tone for the response." Ski Patroller Bob Cadman is in the next room to the dispatch office. He sees Smith signal to him that a "10-40" — injured person — call has come in. "Glacier Creek!" she yells through the plate glass window. Meanwhile, she radios the 10-40 and location to all other ski patrollers. At this point, the only thing Cadman and Smith know is that someone is injured.
2:16 p.m. — Two minutes after the initial call to the dispatcher, Cadman has snapped on his skies and has skied down 1,033 feet of elevation to Glacier Creek restaurant from Rendezvous. "When I get to Glacier Creek, I pop out of my skis and get through the doors," Cadman says. "The first thing I see is a woman performing a chest compression on the man. I do a quick assessment to see what's going on. I feel his neck and groin (there is a large artery there) for a pulse, but there is none." A Mountain Host — John Bowery — is also helping out, first by applying mouth-to-mouth, then with crowd control. "The patient is not breathing," Cadman says. "I call Stephany —all ski patrollers have portable radios — and tell her we have a 'Code 3' (major medical emergency). "That is the last thing I say to her," Cadman says, as he concentrates on the victim. The woman on the scene says she is a nurse from Australia. She and Cadman continue to work on Portmann, the nurse applying CPR while Cadman pulls out a "pocket mask" from his backpack. All ski patrollers carry them. The mask allows mouth-to-mouth without touching lips, and prevents the victim's vomit from interfering with the procedure.
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