Douglas and Becky Thompson of Wilson, New York, were certainly aware of Mercy Flight. Every year, they played in Mercy Flight's charity golf tournament and attended its LakeFest fundraiser on the shores of Lake Ontario. Little did they expect to need the lifesaving emergency airlift service.
Doug, a middle-aged State Farm insurance agent, was in good health except for his right knee, which had already undergone a knee replacement. He sensed something about the joint still, "wasn't quite right." In August 2009, Doug was diagnosed with bone cancer in the soft tissue of his right knee. He underwent an 8-hour surgery, during which doctors removed half of his thigh and half of his knee bone, and replaced them with cadaver bone and a metal rod that ran the length of his leg. After the operation, Doug had to use a walker for more than a year. During that time, Doug had to have a bone graft, as well.
Something still felt wrong, so Doug went back to the doctor. Nothing showed up on his initial X-ray, so Doug took a family vacation to Europe, where he participated in a favorite hobby—clay target shooting. When he returned home, doctors discovered that Doug's leg rod had a hairline fracture that required additional surgery.
On Friday, August 6, 2010, Doug and his wife Becky were about to leave their home for a nighttime graduation party. Doug rose from his seat, and slipped on a wet spot on the floor, and his leg went out at a 90-degree angle. The rod went through his thighbone, but did not puncture the skin. Becky watched the awful accident unfold, and both of them screamed, he in pain, she in horror. While Becky went to call 911, Doug decided to straighten his leg, so she wouldn't have to see it. He screamed again.
A friend in the Wilson Fire Department who lived two houses from the Thompsons came to help Doug get to the Fire Hall. From there, Mercy Flight met Doug and strongly recommended he take pain medication to better handle the takeoff and landing. The Mercy Flight Paramedic had a needle at the ready, waiting for the injection. Doug initially declined the offer, but when he was told not to be a hero, he relented. He later chuckled at the thought that he had first refused the pain management. Mercy Flight took off with Doug and headed to the helipad at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo. Before he got there, a heavy rainstorm forced Mercy Flight to circle around Lake Erie. Looking back on his Mercy Flight experience, Doug described it as, "really good, really good!"
Doug's condition was so complicated that he was subsequently taken by ground ambulance to Buffalo General, which did not have a helipad at that time. Once at Buffalo General, Doug waited three days for his surgeon to return from a Florida vacation. The doctor then inserted a new rod into his leg near the femoral artery, a surgery that lasted more than three hours. Unfortunately, Doug developed a staph infection during this rod replacement operation, and had to have another bone graft. Altogether, Doug endured six surgeries in a year.
Because there was no longer a joint in his right knee, Doug did not need to see physical therapist. But he did need to rehabilitate his surgically repaired leg for a long time, in part because of multiple staph infections. He was able to keep working while undergoing his exercise regimen because Becky brought him to their insurance office, where he had the space and time to do so. After his workout, he would prop his leg up on a bench under his desk.
Doug's emergency certainly affected his outlook on life. "You certainly learn to appreciate things a whole lot more," he remarked. He also gained a greater sense of empathy for those in direr physical straits.
In his spare time, Doug still likes to do a lot of clay target shooting. After his recovery, he was thrilled to return to teaching his group of kids how to target shoot, and three of his students have gone on to receive college scholarships because of it.
Doug Thompson often hears Mercy Flight helicopters coming and going over his office, and he always goes outside to watch them pass overhead. With his voice cracking, Doug asserts, "It's a tremendous asset to our area."
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