WHITEFISH – The A.L.E.R.T helicopter is the second oldest air transport program in the country and is credited for saving thousands of lives.
The Advanced Life Emergency Rescue Team out of Kalispell serves all around the Northwest — to places like Missoula and Spokane.
A.L.E.R.T. has saved countless lives — including that of one skier who is thanking them for saving his life more than 30 years ago.
The program was there for Ken Stein when he had a serious ski accident that changed his life.
On Feb. 18, 1989 the, then 23-year-old ski fanatic and some close friends were taking their last ski run of the day.
“It was a little foggy, so there was a cat track about halfway down. I hit the cat track, did a flip and landed on my head,” Steein recalled.
From there it was a total blur and Stein doesn’t remember anything.
Doctors told him that he broke C3, C3, and C4 in 6 places, 2 in each vertebra.
Stein’s college roommate, Dan Cassidy, performed CPR and then Stein was airlifted by A.L.E.R.T. helicopter to Kalispell hospital.
At that time, Kalispell had no neurosurgeons on staff, and Stein didn’t realize how bad his injuries actually were.
He told MTN News that while he was lying on his back on a stretcher in the hospital all he could think about was his awful heartburn.
“I had had Hellroaring chili for lunch that was giving me really bad heartburn. I asked him if he could just give me some tums or milk of magnesia or something and he said ‘no.’ And I said, ‘why are you trying to save my life when I’m going to die of heartburn’?”
Stein was paralyzed from the neck down for six weeks and it was a long road to recovery.
Stein had to re-teach himself the basics like how to walk, “I was able to move one toe once, and it was like a monumental effort”
Stein was determined and being paralyzed wasn’t an option for him. It took five months before he was up and walking without crutches after his accident.
Today, Stein lives with the impact of his accident.
“My balance isn’t very good. My gate is way off. The feeling in my feet and hands is not very good,” Stein explained.
He’s thankful to be up and walking. While Stein doesn’t ski anymore he spends his time golfing and with his wife grandson Alex and two dogs.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center will hold its annual A.L.E.R.T. fundraising banquet this weekend to raises funds for the helicopter program that was one of many components that saved Ken Stein’s life.
Reporting by Maren Siu for MTN News