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In remote Alaska wilderness, injury can turn to death in a flash

Craig Medred

Death comes so easy in the Alaska wilderness. Help is far away. People are on their own. Accidents can quickly turn deadly.

Alaska State Troopers say that on Saturday a leg wound killed 26-year-old Cody Parry from Trapper Creek. According to trooper reports, 29-year-old Kyle Strong from Wasilla accidentally shot Parry, a hunting buddy. The bullet from Strong's .30-06-caliber rifle, troopers said, "entered and exited (Parry's) leg. Strong attempted to provide life-saving measures including CPR."

Then he went for help. The two men were in a cabin the Parry family owns a half-mile off the George Parks Highway near Mile 169. Strong had no means of communication, so he ran to the highway and flagged down a car. The nearest medical help was in the tiny community of Trapper Creek at Mile 114.8 on the Parks -- more than 54 miles south of the Parry cabin.

Troopers did not say how Trapper Creek Emergency Medical Services was contacted, but did report that Strong and the motorist he flagged down went back to the cabin and were "able to transport Parry by four-wheeler to the highway." By the time Trapper Creek EMS arrived, however, Parry was dead.

If a person is shot in the leg, and the bullet happens to hit the femoral artery, they have but minutes to live without medical help. A similar shooting killed NFL Pro Bowler Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins five years ago even though he was airlifted to a trauma unit.

"The body has two femoral arteries that branch off from about mid-abdomen into each thigh. They are among the body's biggest vessels, and in the groin area and upper thigh, are about as big around as an index finger," the Associated Press reported at the time." Stopping blood loss gushing from a bullet hole in that region can be extremely challenging if the wound is close to the groin. It would be hard to put a tourniquet around it, said Dr. Gannon Dudlar, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.

"An injury of this type 'essentially means you can lose all the blood in your whole body within five minutes,' said Dr. Mary Pat McKay, director of George Washington University's Center for Injury Prevention and Control."

Firearms are not the only danger here, either. In 1999, Rick Young from Boring, Ore., then 41 and co-host of a half-hour television show called "Northwest Hunter," nearly died on Little Mount Susitna about 60 miles across from Cook Inlet from Anchorage after accidentally stabbing himself in the femoral artery while skinning a moose. He was saved only thanks to a friend who knew exactly how to treat the blood-gushing injury.

Medical professionals caution that bleeding from a femoral artery is hard to stop and if direct pressure on the wound doesn't work a tourniquet -- a medical treatment once out of favor -- might be required. The dangers from an injury that causes severe bleeding to someone far from help in the Alaska wilderness should be taken seriously by everyone who travels or lives there because even the simplest of accidents can turn deadly.

Troopers reported that Strong accidentally shot Parry after cleaning a rifle. He "was manipulating his 30-06...when a round discharged," a statement said. "Parry was sitting on a nearby couch when the round entered and exited his leg. ... Foul play is not suspected."

Parry is at least the second Alaska hunter to die in a shooting accident this year. An 11-year-old boy from the rural village of St. Mary's died in May when a hunting companion, a 9-year-old girl, fell down and her shotgun discharged. The two youths were hunting snowshoe hares. Alaska leads the nation in the per capita rate of gunshot deaths at 20.9 per 100,000 people, but most of them are suicides. The Alaska Section of Epidemiology, a state agency, reports the annual accidental and unintentional death rate is usually below 1 per 100,000 residents.

Still, the state has been working to try to drive the death rate down even farther. Hunter safety classes, which teach safe gun handling, are available through local offices of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com