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Carmen Martinez: Broken arm, but not spirit

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Part one of two:

Carmen Martinez, Instructor

X-ray of arm after surgery - Carmen Martinez, Instructor

In February of 2006, Rock Creek Campus chemistry instructor Carmen Martinez never saw it coming. Thankfully, somebody saw her because it saved her life.

While snow boarding on the deep powdered slopes of Mt. Hood Meadows, Martinez decided to head back to the lodge and call it a day.

“I’m too old to do half pipes,” she admits. “I go down the main run and have fun with it. I don’t go too fast. I don’t remember most of that day. We were going back toward the lodge, which was close by.”

As she circumvented the bouncing contour of the slope, she slid straight into a crevasse that was hidden below the horizon. Martinez landed on a rocky creek bed 18 feet below, crushing her right arm. Her head narrowly missed a nearby boulder and instead rested on mud. With her arm broken in 11 pieces and her head half submerged in freezing stream water, Martinez was flowing in and out of consciousness.

“My friend found me under water,” she said. “He threw himself into the hole and pulled my upper body up out of the water. He then started screaming for help.”

Frances Johnson

Crevasse on Mt Hood

Help did come. Another snowboarder heard his cries and immediately joined him in the rescue. The boarder grabbed her lower body and lifted her from the creek’s freezing water. She said it was only after the surgery that she was told it was a long rescue as mountain rescue members had to lift her out of the deep crevasse. In the haste of getting her down off the mountain, Martinez even lost her boots.

“They told me later that I had been in and out of consciousness, asking about what had happened,” Martinez said. “Then I’d be gone again. The only thing I remember is the pain and the cold and being wrapped in something tight. I remember waking up after surgery and my daughter was there. That was it.”

It was at that time she realized the extent of her injury. Her arm bone broke at the elbow snapping it through the skin and jammed up into the shoulder, splitting the upper portion of the bone. The first surgery that same night closed the skin off. Two surgeries later, a myriad of bolts and screws had been installed into her arm to piece together all of the fractures.

“I spent about a week in the hospital,” Martinez said. “I couldn’t do anything. It was really weird. It felt like my arm was disassociated from my body. I couldn’t move it and I couldn’t sleep.”

Frances Johnson

It was a tough few months for Martinez as she recovered. Unable to drive, she relied on friends and students to take her to and from physical therapy sessions and doctor visits. Staff from Rock Creek, helped her at home.

“It blew my mind, all the people I hardly knew who offered help,” she said. “I’ve never felt such love before.”

Her last surgery in December entailed the doctors removing the sets of bolts and screws. It was relief to Martinez who reported that she could feel the cold of the steel inside her arm and it caused discomfort. Then it was time for endless sessions with acupuncturists, massage therapists and physical therapists, which continue to this day, to try to get back Martinez’s range of motion.

“The doctor had cut a piece of my shoulder muscle out to repair a part of my arm so I need to develop that,” she said. “Even a year later my range of motion is about 60 percent. I’m learning to compensate but I expect to make a full 100-percent recovery.”

Next week:

Martinez discovers a startling revelation about her rescuer

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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