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Miracle from 34 feet: Man survives fall

Dan Thrift/Tahoe TribuneLarry Kendall is flanked by paramedics Ron Stitton and Megan Dugdale, who helped save his life.
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Larry Kendall has had a miraculous recovery from a horrendous fall that probably would have killed him had it not been for the two people who first treated him.

In an emotional reunion Thursday, the 63-year-old South Shore artist heard firsthand from paramedics who treated him after he fell 30 feet face-first into concrete.

It was an event, Kendall says, that changed his life forever. It was also something he doesn’t remember.



“I remember going to my friend’s house to paint it and then waking up in a hospital room not knowing what happened,” Kendall said.

For three weeks, Kendall was in a coma. Doctors later told him they did not think he would recover. Blunt force trauma to the head, especially when it happens to a man his age, is not something people just snap out of.




“I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for you and the doctors,” a tearful Kendall told Megan Dugdale, firefighter/paramedic, and EMT Ron Stitton, of Lake Valley Fire District.

Thursday’s reunion at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center was Kendall’s way of wanting to personally thank the pair who helped save his life.

Besides his head injury, in which his doctor told him he’s “at 97 percent and improving” the fall also shattered the bones in his left arm. Since the accident, doctors opened up his arm, scraped out the fragments, attaching a titanium humerus bone to his shoulder.

“My physical therapist told me I’m at 80 percent and improving,” Kendall said. “I’ve already finished a couple paintings.”

It was Sept. 7, about noon when Dugdale and Stitton found Kendall after receiving their first 911 call of the day to respond to a report of a man who fell at a Tahoe Keys residence.

When they arrived, Kendall was lying face down on the concrete, blood oozing from his face and nose that mixed with a slippery pool of gray paint that covered the ground and his body.

It was the paint and seeing the way Kendall’s body was twisted within the rungs of the 24-foot extension ladder that made matters worse, Stitton said.

“His legs and feet were twisted around it, while his body was going another way,” Stitton said. “Paint was everywhere, he was covered in it and his own blood. It was obvious that he was messed up and we didn’t have much time.”

Dugdale also instinctively knew time was not on Kendall’s side. Despite the blood loss, head trauma and the way his body was contorted, Kendall did something that Dugdale believes was a sign for his fight to live.

As she attempted to stick a breathing tube in Kendall’s throat, he swiped it away.

“Even though he was unconscious, his hands told me, ‘no, don’t do that,'” Dugdale said.

With a rapid succession of breaths, which Dugdale recalls how they caused the blood and paint on his face to bubble, she attached a tube to his nose. Stitton then managed to turn Kendall’s body out of the ladder and monitored his heart rate.

Nine minutes after the pair arrived, Kendall was in an ambulance on his way to Barton Memorial Hospital where he would be taken by Care Flight to Washoe Medical Center.

“We packed you up like a cocoon,” Dugdale told Kendall, adding that Stitton still has paint on his shoes and there are still traces of it on the emergency vehicle.

Like most calls, the two compared their experience after Kendall was taken away in an ambulance. It’s something routine emergency responders do, poring over what went right and what went wrong.

Both walked away knowing they did the best they could. The rest would be left to fate.

Still, for every trauma victim, there is something within every trained emergency rescue technician that wants to know whether their patient will make it.

“You want to put up a wall, but (the victims) you work on are human beings. You can’t help but not have feelings for them,” Stitton said.

For Dugdale, who said it was one of those events that she would never forget, made several inquiries as to Kendall’s status. Each netted the same response during those first two weeks.

“I was told he was still in a coma and it didn’t look good,” she said.

It was a little more than a month after the incident when Dugdale got a phone call from Kendall.

“I said to her, ‘You helped save my life,'” Kendall said.

Speechless, she sensed the emotion and sincerity in Kendall’s voice.

“I don’t do it very often, but I started to cry,” she said.

Jeff Munson may be reached via e-mail at jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com


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