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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Against the odds, doctors save 16-year-old bull rider’s life

In this Thursday, May 24, 2018 photo, high school rodeo bull rider Wyatt Bruesch, 16, of Raft River, Idaho, answers questions from the media at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, about his condition after he was trampled by a bull during a rodeo. (Doug Lindley / Associated Press)
By David Ashby Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO, Idaho – Wyatt Bruesch is being called a living miracle.

The 16-year-old was severely injured when a bull stepped on his chest during the State District 6 High School Rodeo Tournament in Burley. After Wyatt was transported by air ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, he flatlined.

“(The doctors) said they lost me three times,” the young bull rider from Burley said.

That’s when surgeons made the decision to perform an emergency department thoracotomy, where Wyatt’s chest was surgically cut open so Dr. Jorge Amorim could stop the ruptured left lung from bleeding and massage the heart with his hands.

According to Dr. Drew McRoberts, the trauma director at PMC, an emergency department thoracotomy is performed in life and death situations. Statistics show that only 7 percent of patients who undergo the procedure survive.

“You only do it when the patient is about to die,” McRoberts said.

However, the thoracotomy worked and Wyatt’s heart started beating again. The young rodeo star, who is the first patient to survive an emergency department thoracotomy at PMC in the 21st century, will live to ride another day.

On May 24, six days after his injury, Wyatt was in good spirits and preparing for his expected Friday discharge from the hospital. Ever the bull rider, the Raft River High School junior was wearing his cowboy hat along with his hospital gown in his room at PMC.

Wyatt has only been bull riding since October but has already chalked up multiple 8 second rides. He’s also earned his share of bumps, bruises and cuts and says he’s had to get stitches during previous injuries.

But he hadn’t experienced anything as severe as the injuries he sustained to his chest earlier that month.

Wyatt remembers being bucked from the bull. At first, the animal went away but then came back and trampled his chest. For his mom, Nicole Erickson, who was watching the whole incident, it was a terrifying sight.

“It made me sick,” she said.

Paramedics then transported Wyatt from the rodeo to Cassia Regional Hospital in Burley. Before he was airlifted from there to PMC, he was sedated and didn’t wake up until Saturday evening. He soon learned about the extraordinary measures that were taken to save his life.

“It’s been a lot of needles, a lot of blood, a lot of doctors working on me to keep me alive,” Wyatt said about the past week. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the paramedics at the rodeo, the Burley crew and the hospital here (PMC). They saved my life.”

When the doctors told Erickson that her son was going to survive, it was an unbelievable relief.

“I knew he was my miracle child,” she said.

After the incident May 18, Erickson seemed hesitant about seeing her son back in the rodeo. When asked if she would allow him to keep riding, she said, “Against my better judgment, yes. He’s going to do it whether I say yes or no.”

Wyatt says he still has some difficulty walking, but the doctors say he is going to make a full recovery. Though he’ll be cheering on his teammates from the stands at the upcoming state high school rodeo finals, he says he can’t wait to get back to bull riding.

In the meantime, his message to his teammates is simple.

“Keep riding, never give up,” Wyatt said. “There may be crashes every now and then but don’t let them stop you.”