By Alan Gionet
DENVER (CBS4) – “That just never came across my mind I guess.”
That’s what Dave Repsher said when CBS4’s Alan Gionet asked about dying.
Medical texts don’t seem to have documented survival from injury as great, but Repsher is an anomaly in many ways. Incredible fitness, toughness of body and mind — and help, medical care and emotional support. The combination has put him back on his feet working on new steps in his survival. He hasn’t told his story before.
CBS4 caught up to Dave and his wife Amanda at the Pepsi Center where Repsher was visiting before an Avalanche game. He was honored to the roar of the crowd.
“I had some very dark days,” Repsher admits.
Who wouldn’t. Repsher was injured when his Flight For Life helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff on July 3, 2015. The aircraft didn’t get far and smashed into a parking lot next to the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. There were three on board — fellow flight nurse Matt Bowe, who’s injuries were less severe and has returned to work, Repsher and pilot Patrick Mahany.
“It was an incredibly hard thing to tell Dave when he woke up that Patrick was gone,” said his wife Amanda about the death of Mahany.
Repsher’s memories of his friend are stirring; like the time Mahany landed in a tiny patch of clear ground at Longs Peak to rescue an injured climber.
“Pat got me on that rock, (I) went out, got the patient, put the patient in, big hurry, got me out of there. Not a drop of sweat came off his brow. He was the best pilot in the world and just a pleasure to be around,” Repsher said.
Repsher isn’t one to easily talk about himself. His friends tell stories of him running, climbing, kayaking and playing hockey in one day without thinking twice.
“Dave was so strong, anywhere we’d go on the river, on the mountain skiing, I always felt so safe, just knowing Dave was there, just knowing everything was going to be okay,” said Amanda, who is also a nurse and used to work at a burn center. “When they told me that Dave was burned 90 percent, I just fell apart and I knew that him living through the night was going to be something extraordinary.”
Repsher lived and kept living. Still Repsher’s burn surgeon reminded her she would never be able to stop worrying until he walked out of the hospital. That would be over a year.
Right after Repsher came in, doctors put him under sedation. With burns so severe, there was no way he could be awake.
“I guess Amanda was there every day and there were times where I could hear her voice and it seemed to bring me back in from wherever I was at. I was in some pretty strange places at times but, every now and then I’d hear Amanda’s voice and it would sort of ground me and bring me back,” Repsher said.
The burns were one challenge, but only one. At one point Repsher began to bleed uncontrollably.
“I told him to fight,” said Amanda, “I told him I wasn’t ready to let him go and he did. He fought.”
Doctors brought him out of sedation to see what kind of damage the loss of blood had caused.
“It was the most bizarre thing, it was just like a shutter frame opened it went from black it just, across my eyes it just went white and I was awake,” said Repsher. “I woke up and I had Amanda by my side but it was a very scary time.”
He couldn’t move.
“I couldn’t speak or communicate in any fashion. I couldn’t write or anything, I was just sort of there.”
Repsher did begin to realize his medical situation.
“I couldn’t respond in any way, it was very scary.”
Dave’s struggles were only beginning.
“He had a period of time where he got sicker and sicker and as sick as he’d been in the hospital and I thought I was losing him again,” said Amanda.
In April, nine months after he came in, the infection in his blood dropped a man who was 180 pounds before the crash to 89. Yet, somehow, Repsher won again.
Even after he began to get stronger, so many things had to be relearned.
“I had to learn how to swallow again, that took about four months, five months.” Walking another half a year. “It took me six months to get back on my feet. Every time I put weight on my feet or tried to bend my feet the pain was just excruciating.”
A man so used to doing everything had to relearn and adjust. But there is a mental toughness to Repsher that was different.
“I got up and worked through it and I’m still working through it. I’ll never get back what I had but I certainly want to try to get the best I can.”
Repsher and his wife give a lot of credit to the support that took some pressure off.
“The whole hockey community has been fantastic. Everything from the beer league I play with to the Avalanche and the big leagues. Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation, the best charity in the world. They’ve done just wonders for us,” Repsher said.
They gave credit at home too. From Repsher’s friend George taking care of their dog for a year to so many in the community.
“People that have done so many special events for us and our community back home … it’s humbling,” said Amanda.
“Again it’s people we don’t even know who just come out and want to help and it’s just been, it’s been awe inspiring to see,” Repsher added.
Watch CBS4’s extended interview with the Repshers in the following video:
There’s a lot more ahead in Repsher’s recovery. He still needs operations on his hands. The heavy antibiotics wiped out most of his hearing and ruined his kidneys. Right now he’s spending a great deal of time on dialysis. Amanda administers four hours of hemodialysis five nights a week at home. He needs a kidney donation and just got on the transplant list in recent weeks. The University of Colorado Hospital donor team is working on that. Find out how to be tested by calling (720) 848-0855.
Repsher and Amanda are grateful to have come this far. Now he hopes to give back.
“I guess I just want to get back out into the community,” he said.
Somehow, it seems certain he will.
“We’re going to make it through it. We’ve had the support and continued support we’re going to make it through it.”
Find out more about the donor program by visiting uchealth.org/services/transplant-services/living-donation/kidney.