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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: One year later—a thank you to Whistler Search and Rescue

A rescued backcountry snowbiker sends appreciation to Whistler Search and Rescue.

This year has been a challenging time for all of us. Notwithstanding the pandemic we are facing, the uptick in backcountry and mountain rescues has been trying for all B.C. rescue teams. Pique’s [cover feature] “Slippery Slope,” on Feb. 18 and “Wilderness Rescuers Brace for a Busy Winter,” on Dec. 10 highlight the criticality of being prepared and understanding the risks of the terrain. For those rescued, the trauma they and their families endure can have lifetime consequences.

Today, we received a letter from a person who shared their gratitude to Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) and the rescue operations team. With his permission, we are sharing his experience to highlight the brave journey that is now his life and perhaps give some cause to others as they embark on decision making in the backcountry

Being well prepared does not negate the perils or risks that are prevalent in our mountains now. More than ever, we encourage all backcountry adventurists to weigh the risks and reality of the situations that can befall us.

WSAR is happy to learn that Philippe is making excellent progress and we wish him the best as he continues his recovery. 

Dear Whistler Search and
Rescue Heroes,

One year ago today, on Feb. 24, you rescued me with a helicopter from the Brandywine area. I was paralyzed from the waist down with a spinal-cord injury sustained while snowbiking. After surgery in Vancouver, the doctors told me it was unlikely I’d ever walk again, and I’d have to use wheelchairs, catheters and bowel treatments the rest of my life.

As I let you know back in August 2020, I have been incredibly lucky with what my body and the excellent treatment I received have allowed me to achieve. I no longer need any of those things.

None of this would have happened if you all hadn’t helped get me off the mountain and to the operating table so quickly after the injury, and for that, I’ll never be able to thank you enough. The recovery I’ve made is built on the foundation of care that started with you.

Even now, with such quick and competent care, only about five per cent of people with my level of injury ever walk again. There are three reasons that I’m part of that five per cent:

1. My incomplete injury was not made worse, thanks to skilled and knowledgeable rescue and transport by WSAR.

2. I was able to get surgery within 24 hours of my injury, thanks to the existence of WSAR, and how quickly I was rescued.

3. And finally: Luck. Spinal injuries are still mostly a mystery to medical science. In the hospital, I got to know several people with injuries like mine, who worked even harder than me at their recovery, but their body didn’t allow them to walk out of the hospital.

Without WSAR providing No. 1 and No. 2, there would have been no chance of No. 3: Luck.

Anyone unfortunate enough to be injured near Whistler should know their luck has turned around when they find themselves in your brave, efficient, professional and compassionate hands.

That’s why my gratitude to you guys grows with every new little bit of recovery I achieve.

Hopefully, this pandemic will be over soon, so on the next anniversary of my injury, I’ll be able to thank the pilot, rescue volunteers and all those who made my rescue possible. In recognition, I’ve also set up a monthly donation that I aim to increase as I’m able.

All the very best,

Philippe Devos, Ontario

Brad Sills // President, Whistler Search and Rescue Society