As Very Important Patient (VIP) Trevor Thompson stood up from his chair and jumped two feet up onto the stage at a recent STARS event, his flight nurse Sarah Painter gasped. The last time she had seen her patient he was paralyzed from the neck down. Now, a little more than a year later, she knew how monumental that jump was.

STARS Very Important Patient Trevor Thompson jumps on stage at Manitoba’s H145 welcome event.

Last summer, Thompson and a friend set out on an advanced mountain bike trail. Early into the ride, Thompson, a seasoned cyclist, rounded a corner and was faced with a ditch. He braked and torpedoed over the handlebars.

With his friend by his side checking his vitals, Thompson lay in fear waiting for help, as there was no cellphone reception. Soon, other cyclists came down the trail and went for help. After hours of waiting in the heat, he was extracted off the remote trail by paramedics and the Parks Canada Search and Rescue Team and was taken to the nearest spot big enough for a STARS helicopter to land.

While Thompson is thankful for the smooth flight to the hospital, he recalls mentally spiraling in-flight, worried about the impact this freak incident would have on his wife and their three teenage daughters. “Would I be a paraplegic or quadriplegic? I did not want to lose my independence.”

“We’re so grateful to STARS. It was probably the worst day of our lives, and you did so much more than provide essential health care,” said Thompson’s wife Sandra. “The support and encouragement [Painter] gave him on the flight — he talked about it through the recovery. He kept saying ‘I can’t wait to meet the people who got me here.’ I’m so relieved you could support him emotionally as well.”

Being a VIP during a pandemic added an extra layer to Thompson’s incident and recovery. Unable to come into the base, the Thompsons met Painter during a virtual call. It’s a mission the flight nurse will never forget.

“Usually, I’m flying people who are not able to talk, but you were awake and alert. I remember that we talked the whole flight,” she said to Thompson on the call. “And then the hospital was so busy that day, and I knew you weren’t able to use your arms to phone or text. I couldn’t leave you in that bed without at least someone knowing you were okay.”

“I’ll never forget your voice,” Sandra Thompson said to Painter. “You were my lifeline. Because of COVID-19 we couldn’t go to the hospital. We had literally nothing, and then you called to tell us he was stable.”

The critical care and transport by STARS, coupled with the expertise of a specialized team of surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and spinal cord rehab specialists, meant Thompson went from being unable to roll over in bed or feed himself to walking out of the hospital in just under a month.

“STARS gave me that chance to be able to walk again. To us, STARS means everything,” said Thompson.