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Heat-related emergency room visits in Arizona go up in recent years

Posted at 8:23 AM, Jun 10, 2024

CATALINA FOOTHILLS, Ariz. (KGUN) — With her feet making crunching noises underneath her, Tammy Derickson hiked through Sabino Canyon, remembering her co-worker who passed away from a heat-related illness while hiking in California about 10 years ago.

Derickson said she was hiking with her husband who got separated from her.

“She was a really really good person and a good employee,” Derickson said. “It hit everybody really hard in the office.”

She’s the president of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club. She’s been the president for the past few years.

The Arizona Department of Health Services’ most recent statistics show in 2020 there were over 2,000 people in Arizona who went to hospital emergency rooms because of the heat. The department said in 2021 there were over 2,500 people, and in 2022 over 2,800.

Some of the reasons they went were because of heat stroke and sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.

“When you hike in the heat and you get dehydrated, you kind of become disoriented, so they think that they became disoriented,” Derickson said about her co-worker.

AZHDS said some of the symptoms of heat stroke are a temperature above 103 degrees, a headache, and confusion. They said you should call 911 or get to the hospital if that is the case.

Nancy Debolt followed closely behind Derickson as they hiked through Sabino Canyon. Debolt, the club’s new member liaison, said she’s had a heat-related illness.

“It was a warm day up on the mountain and I felt my legs getting pretty tired,” she recalled.

That’s why you will always see her hiking not just with water, but also with salty snacks and hydrators.

“An electrolyte, usually Emergen-C because it’s easy to carry. We just add it to water,” Debolt said.

She also wears long sleeve shirts, brimmed hats, and hikes early, around 6:30 in the morning. She said the club is considering hiking even earlier than that soon.

Derickson said it’s also a good idea to hike with multiple people in case an emergency happens.

“Hiking in a group really helps because then if somebody has a problem, then they could get help,” she said.

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Andrew Christiansen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Before joining the team, Andrew reported in Corpus Christi, Texas for KRIS6 News, Action 10 News and guest reported in Spanish for Telemundo Corpus Christi. Share your story ideas with Andrew by emailing andrew.christiansen@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, or Twitter.