With skater's life at stake, Duluth arena workers came to rescue
Thomas Lund and Aaron Hinnenkamp aren't just your ordinary Zamboni drivers. Quick action by the two Amsoil Arena ice maintenance workers might have helped save a life last week.
Rich Mertz was taking his first skate of the year Oct. 6 with a group of friends who play pick-up hockey every Thursday at the arena when, about four minutes before their time was up, the 33-year-old got tangled up with a friend in what he calls "a total freak accident."
His friend got tripped on Mertz's hockey stick and, as his friend kicked his leg out, his skate struck the right side of Mertz's face, going through his cheek and cutting two arteries.
"I knew it right away," Mertz said. "I got cut good."
Mertz said he tried to shove ice into the wound to stop the bleeding, but said each time he removed his hand from his face, "blood gushed out."
As his heart pounded and blood continued to spurt from his face and neck, he skated off the ice and walked into a hallway. Lund and Hinnenkamp were at the other end of the arena and ran to help.
Fortunately for Mertz, the 21-year-old Lund is a trained emergency medical technician who needs only to take a written test to become fully certified.
"There was blood absolutely everywhere," Lund said. "I was terrified at first, but I had to remain calm to help him remain calm. Once he knew we were calm and relaxed, it helped him calm down."
Hinnenkamp, 19, immediately called 911 and ran to get Lund five or six towels. After Lund got Mertz to a locker room and off his feet, he removed a jersey a friend had placed on the wound.
"All I could see was this huge open gash," he said.
When he applied the towels, "I had 50 to 60 pounds of my body weight on you," Lund told Mertz on Thursday, the first time the three met since the accident. "And blood was still pumping out."
After just a couple minutes, the towels "were soaked in blood," Lund said.
Firefighters responded about two minutes after the 911 call was placed, and paramedics were at the scene two minutes after that. Mertz was taken to St. Luke's, where he was told that the two arteries near the wound were cauterized and doctors estimated he lost about two pints of blood. He was released the next day with only seven stitches, and no physical or dietary restrictions.
Hinnenkamp said so much blood fell on the ice he had to scrape off 80 cubic feet of it to remove the stain.
While the wound is still swollen, sore and is painful to the touch, Mertz said he knows it could have been worse. Doctors told him if the blade had cut him at a different angle he could have had far more damage.
He doesn't know what would have happened if Lund and Hinnenkamp hadn't responded so quickly.
"I have no idea what shape I would have been in," he said.
"If you would have been bleeding like that for two more minutes," Lund told him, "it could have easily been fatal."
Mertz said he was glad he didn't have to think about that.
"I don't know how close it was, and I'm so fortunate not to know," he told Lund and Hinnenkamp. "All I can do is thank you guys, thank the doctors and the fire and paramedics. If it wasn't for them, who knows where I would be."
Where he planned to be Thursday night: back at Amsoil Arena, playing pickup hockey with his friends.
"I just want to put it behind me and go back to normal," he said.