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Army vet thanks hospital staff after UTV accident in Rocky Point

Posted at 12:56 PM, May 24, 2024

PHOENIX — A year ago, Reed Schaaf's life was hanging by a thread. Today, he's being called a medical miracle by the very heroes who saved him.

This decorated Army soldier is still working through a traumatic brain injury, but he's determined to show his gratitude for the group of first responders he's now bonded with for life.

I was there when Schaaf spent time thanking the heroes who saved him on a video call.

"Thank you. I appreciate you! The whole Banner team did quite the job on this body!" said Schaaf.

His voice was filled with emotion as he chatted with Paul Lewis, a flight paramedic for Banner Air.

"We made you as comfortable as we could, man!" Lewis replied.

The flight paramedics, trauma nurse, and surgeon all told me, that being thanked is extremely rare in their line of work.

Schaaf says he was on a beach vacation in Rocky Point, Mexico, when a devastating all-terrain vehicle crash almost took his life.

"Did it flip? Did it roll down the hill?" I asked Schaaf.

"Yeah, so pretty much what I was told everything was fine, and then I clipped a tree or something and swung into a wall," he explained, trying to recall the incident that crushed his body.

First responders in Mexico knew Schaaf needed to get to a level-one trauma center in order to survive. But it was a long journey to get to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, nearly 200 miles away. He was losing a staggering amount of blood and even suffered a heart attack. He flat-lined twice as he was rushed by ambulance for 90 grueling minutes to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I was pronounced dead on the scene when they showed up," Schaaf recalled.

At the border, he was transferred to an American ambulance from Ajo. Then he was taken in a Banner Air medical helicopter near Gila Bend. That's where he was stabilized by the flight paramedics.

"I remember, in the helicopter yelling at Reed, 'Don't give up. Come on, come on, we're 20 minutes out!'" Lewis recalled.

The Banner Air medical helicopter was equipped with specialized trauma tools and the two units of blood Schaaf needed to stay alive while he was transported to Banner UMC in Phoenix for his first of eight surgeries.

I talked with Dr. Jack He, a trauma surgeon at Banner UMC about the severity of Schaaf's injuries.

"Most of the major bones in his body were shattered. He had neurologists involved. He had plastic surgery involved. He had a facial surgery team. So, it's truly a collection of multi-specialty that provided care for him," Dr. He explained.

I asked Dr. He if he considered Schaaf's survival a miracle.

"Knowing that Reed's heart stopped on the way here and you know, seeing him now, he's like a normal person. So, I would say yeah," Dr. He replied.

Schaaf was hospitalized for 60 days. He tells me the whole time he was surrounded by the love and support of his family and his entire medical team.

Part of that team was trauma nurse Sean Flynn. He was in the operating room the day Schaaf was flown in. He talked with me about being able to follow along with his recovery.

"It was very heartwarming to see how well he progressed. I was rooting for him because I was in the military too and you know, he's a fellow veteran. So, it was very good to see how well he did, and it was great to see him again and meet him and his family," Flynn recalled.

Schaaf suffers from TBI amnesia and doesn't remember much of the accident but tells me he will never forget the importance of honoring our emergency responders.

"I would never be here to talk to you guys if it wasn't for the people in Mexico, the people at the border, Banner Air, and the trauma center. It's awe-inspiring that people do this every day," Schaaf said.

From the brink of death to recovery, Reed Schaaf's journey is a testament to the dedication and heroism of our first responders and medical professionals in Arizona.

He hopes his story will remind others to thank our first responders for the life-saving work they do and the profound impact they have on every person they touch.

He also wants to encourage others to donate blood, saying he's a living example of how donating blood can save lives.

If you'd like to donate blood, there are organizations located in Arizona to make doing so easy including:

5757 North Black Canyon Highway- Phoenix
(877) 464 4376

Red Cross
9950 W. Glendale Avenue Ste. A
800 733 2767