Students participate in woods rescue

by Andrew Weed | 11/17/98 6:00am

Late Thursday afternoon, members of the New England K-9 Search and Rescue Team responded to a distress call reporting 88-year-old Kenneth Lewis of Plymouth, N.H., as missing. The Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team (UVWRT), a volunteer, non-profit group affiliated with the Dartmouth Medical School's Community Service Project, was called early the next morning to aid the search team, which finally located the man in the woods near his home.

Lewis, who may be suffering from early stages of Alzheimer's disease, had walked to his mailbox with his two-year-old Cocker Spaniel Snoopy, and never returned, according to UVWRT unit member Brad Davis '99.

That evening, members of New England K-9 Search and Rescue joined a coordinated effort led by New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game crews to find him, but the rescue attempts were unsuccessful. Temperatures were recorded at 24 degrees, with heavy winds and rain, and Lewis was reportedly dressed in only a sweatshirt and blue jeans, Davis said.

Just after 1 a.m. Friday morning, the UVWRT was called out to depart at 6 a.m. from Hanover. The group arrived on the site around 6:45, and spent roughly the next four hours conducting line searches around the house. They were working in coordination with New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, local and state police, local paramedics and fire department.

"The sense of urgency in this search was particularly high," Davis said. "We've had calls before where we're looking for someone who'd been missing for weeks or have been asked to evacuate deceased bodies, but in this case we knew it was a man whose time was running out."

By 11 a.m., Lewis was spotted lying in the woods by the state police search helicopter about a half mile from his home. When the call came over the radio that he was alive, the UVWRT went to the site.

"He was in pretty bad shape when we reached him," Davis said. "But he was able to maintain consciousness and even respond to questions with one word answers. How an 88-year-old man out in sub-freezing temperatures held on like he did for over 20 hours is beyond me."

Primary care was given by UVWRT member Paul Morton, a fourth-year medical student at DMS. The team treated the patient for severe hypothermia, and he was then evacuated to a waiting ambulance before being taken to Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth. His core body temperature had reached 86 degrees, but he was soon declared to be in stable condition.

The UVWRT is responsible for providing a team of trained personnel for search and rescue missions requested by local fire and police departments, New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game and the Vermont State Police. Its services include searches for lost Alzheimer's patients and missing children and carry-outs of deceased persons.

Other Dartmouth students who responded to the call were Gillian Salton (DMS), Melanie Watts '99, Julia Marx '99, Dan Hogan '00 and Eliot Grigg '01.

"Though we've been out on quite a few callouts, this is the first time we've successfully treated and evacuated an individual." Davis said. "It feels good after years of training to see it all come together and be able to help save someone's life."

"All in all, it was pretty thrilling to save someone, and it was great to see the team's training pay off in a real situation," Hogan said. "The med team and team leader [John Chang, a researcher at the Thayer School of Engineering] should be especially commended for their work."