Health Care & Insurance  August 21, 2022

Luck on her side

Trauma team member finds herself on receiving end of trauma care

LOVELAND — June 3, 2017, would have been the day, if any, that Leann Krayenhagen should have bought a lottery ticket. Luck was on her side on that day.

Krayenhagen, a certified, registered nurse anesthetist — CRNA — who works at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, lost her right leg that day. But she kept her life, and that was the lucky part.

She’s upbeat about her condition, even though she hasn’t walked without crutches since that day. She does have a prosthetic. She credits, however, the presence of a nearby trauma center, highly-skilled trauma professionals and a confluence of events that came together to save her life, which was moments from slipping away.

Krayenhagen was taking her first ride up Poudre Canyon on Colorado Highway 14 on her new Harley Davidson when a twist of fate intervened as she rounded a curve on the roadway. A deer was standing on the inside of the curve. She swerved partially into the oncoming lane. A truck in that lane attempted to get out of the way but caught her right leg as they collided.

Leann Krayenhagen at home. Photo by Tonya Doctorian for UCHealth.

The impact severed her leg, leaving it dangling. She was thrown 30 feet by the impact. 

While her husband and those traveling with her were quick to respond, immediately behind her in the canyon and completely by chance were trauma specialists from MCR. Trauma surgeon Gabe Green rendered aid. Ben Irvine, certified trauma and critical-care nurse, was behind Green and he, also, joined in the response. Her husband wondered, “How did all these people get here already …”

“They stopped the bleeding. I needed blood,” she said.

She was awake and recognized the medical providers, although she couldn’t figure out why they were there. 

Green was carrying a satellite telephone and summoned an emergency response. There was no cell service in the canyon. Once again, luck came into play.

“LifeFlight had been called to pick up a sepsis patient in Estes Park to bring back to MCR. Then a call came in about a bike rider in Rist Canyon who needed aid, so the helicopter diverted to Rist Canyon and the Estes call was diverted to Greeley [transport services.] When LifeFlight got to the biker, he got up and waved them off. Then came my call, and the helicopter was four minutes away.”

“I was awake the whole time,” said Krayenhagen. “I told them I thought I was going to die.”

The helicopter took her to the trauma center at MCR. Dr. Chris Cribari was on duty, and he responded to the helipad at the hospital. She became unresponsive as she entered the trauma room. Blood was ready, four units were quickly infused, and she regained consciousness shortly after.

Seven surgeries within a few days followed by two more over the next couple of years helped her recover.

“They saved my life,” she said of her treatment team. “I’ve worked 13 years as part of that group, and now on the recipient end of that. These are people I’ve worked with, and I fully trusted them. It was like being home when I was a patient.

“Some people want to say, ‘Wow, you were so lucky.’ We don’t think of it as being lucky. We think of it as being miraculous.”

Leann Krayenhagen points to her trauma nurse, Ben Irvin, who happened to be in a car behind Krayenhagen when she crashed in the Poudre Canyon. Courtesy UCHealth.

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