Rice Lake man falls from sky and lives to tell the tale

February 04, 2016

David Edming credits his medical team at Mayo Clinic Health System and his wife, Tammy, for his recovery after suffering a broken pelvis. He maintains an active lifestyle, minus ultralight flying.
David Edming credits his medical team at Mayo Clinic Health System and his wife, Tammy, for his recovery after suffering a broken pelvis. He maintains an active lifestyle, minus ultralight flying.

RICE LAKE, Wis. — At one point or another, you’ve probably dreamed that you can fly. Centuries of visionaries tried until the Wright brothers came along, and now flight is ordinary, although the thrill remains.

But two years ago, an adventurous Rice Lake resident found that flying has its ups and downs. David Edming, 56, a Navy veteran, didn’t want to slow down when he retired. He took up aviation and purchased a powered parachute ultralight — a three-wheeled machine with a propeller that ascends when wind fills an attached parachute.

“The thing with a powered parachute is you only fly in perfect weather,” says Edming. July 2, 2013, was a beautiful day with no wind, and he took off from his hayfield to pass by a local golf course, which he had done many times.

After his flyby, he tried to increase altitude while making a turn, which is standard. But something went wrong. Although the wing should have caught the wind, it instead curled under, sending him into a nosedive.

“I immediately knew something wasn’t right,” says Edming. “Nothing worked, so I lost altitude. And it doesn’t take long to drop 100 feet.”

Edming tried to control the parachute as he dropped at a 45-degree angle. “I knew what I needed to do, but it wasn’t working,” he says. “I tried whatever I could think of.” Unfortunately, he could do nothing.

He crashed on his left side in a bean field by the course. “I remember a bounce, and I called for help,” he says. “When people rushed over, I told them how to turn the gas off to avoid an explosion.”

Edming told them to call his wife, Tammy, and forgot everything from then until a month and a half later.

Edming was transported to the Level II Trauma Center at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, and was met by a trauma team that included emergency physicians, trauma surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals. Orthopedic trauma surgeon Fernando Serna, M.D., says Edming came in with multiple injuries to his left arm, thigh, ankle and foot, including open injuries with associated nerve damage. But the most life-threatening injury was his broken pelvis.

“When you break your pelvis like that, everything else inside gets jumbled up,” says Edming. “My intestines were cut, my spleen was ripped and I had a bunch of nerve damage.”

Edming initially was in an induced coma so the trauma surgeons could repair his internal injuries and orthopedic surgeons could repair the damage to his bones and joints. He underwent five surgeries over the next month.

“He required external fixators at first to stabilize his injuries,” says Dr. Serna. “He also needed pins in his pelvis, leg and thigh, secured with external bars and clamps. With these in place, surgeons then performed staged surgeries to definitively fix his injuries with multiple plates and screws.”

Despite severe life- and limb-threatening injuries, Dr. Serna says Edming has recovered well. “I think everybody involved has been very surprised and encouraged that he is doing as well as he is,” he says.

“I limp a bit on my left side,” says Edming. “But am I a happy person? Yes. They saved my life. I thank the Mayo doctors, nurses and support staff, and most of all Tammy for getting me back on my feet.”

Although Edming says flying the ultralight is not an option now, he’s still active. “I still go four-wheeling, cut wood and ride my motorcycle,” he says. “Just a little slower, and I have to be a little more careful.”

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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in 60 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.

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Kristin Everett
e-mail: everett.kristin@mayo.edu
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