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Man survives a 15-foot tumble while tree trimming

How Lakeview Hospital helped him back to his feet

Jim Tolaas is an engineer. So once he had recovered from his accident, it was natural for him to calculate how fast his speed had been when he hit the ground.

The Stillwater resident figures he was going around 22 mph when he landed on his back under the tree he had been trimming over Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m very safety conscious,” he said. “I have all the safety gear – a hard hat, gloves, eye and ear protection, chaps. I had tied the ladder to the tree while trimming, but I was done for the day and had just untied it. I had started back down and that’s when the wind came. And, well, I don’t fly as well as I used to!”

Pam Hietalati, Jim’s girlfriend, watched in horror as he fell 15 feet. She saw him land flat on his back on the ground. And she raced over to him, afraid of what she would find.

Image of Jim Tolaas Jim Tolaas stands in his yard in front of the tree he fell from while trimming.

“I honestly thought he was dead,” Pam said. She called 911 and was thankful that, within minutes, Lakeview Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was on the scene. Although Jim had managed to get to his feet by then, he was winded and could barely speak to paramedics. One of his lungs had been punctured in the fall and he’d cracked some ribs.

“The ambulance was there so fast,” Jim said. “Everybody was so courteous. As traumatic as it is to experience something like that, they make you feel very comfortable.”

Once he arrived at Lakeview Hospital’s Emergency Department, Jim was relieved to get his questions answered – and fears put to rest – by the emergency staff and intensive care unit (ICU) nurses. After being fitted with a chest tube to help remove the air from around his lung and allow it to re-expand, Jim stayed in the hospital two nights.

“They explained everything to me in the Emergency Department,” he recalled. “They calmed me down and eased my mind a lot about what was going to happen. Everybody did a super job. The ICU also gets high marks for exceptional care and keeping me comfortable. The nurses were so friendly and provided truly outstanding service.”

Pam echoes his praise. “The staff at the hospital was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “They kept me informed and explained everything every step of the way. They walked us through the whole discharge process and made sure I felt comfortable taking him home.”

Never one to sit – or lie – around, Jim could not wait to get life back on track. He returned to work almost immediately and, once the chest tube was removed, was biking the Gateway and Brown’s Creek trails within a couple of weeks. He was even backpacking a little more than a month after leaving the hospital.

Jim attributes his swift recovery to a number of factors: his positive mindset about healing; being in good physical shape before the accident; wearing the appropriate safety gear while doing the yard work which led to the accident; and the swift, professional medical attention he received following his fall.

Despite his positive outlook on his accident and his complete recovery, Jim remains put out about one aspect of his experience.

“I broke my record!” he said. “I’m 64 and I hadn’t stayed in the hospital since I had my appendix out when I was 5 or 6 years old. My strategy has been to avoid hospitals!”

Still, Jim does concede he’s glad that, of all places, his hospital-free streak was broken at Lakeview. “The staff there were a great crew. I give them kudos,” he said.

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