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Emergency crew visits with Temecula teen whose life they saved

Video Report/Editing: Kitty Alvarado

Video: JP Raineri


On Tuesday, May 4, 16-year-old Corey Freeman had an opportunity to shake the hands of the people that saved his life.

With his grateful family at his side, Corey expressed his sincere appreciation to the two teams of emergency workers that worked valiantly to stabilize and transport him after he went into cardiac arrest from critical injuries he sustained in a recent motorcycle accident at Pala Raceway.

“I’m very thankful for everything that everyone has done for me,” Corey said to the group.

The emergency responders, in awe of Corey’s physical appearance, were eager to hear the details of his recovery after a day they remembered only too well.

“The odds were tough but I kept thinking, ‘we can’t let this 15-year-old die,’” said Mike DeLaby, a registered nurse and medical base supervisor with Mercy Air, who performed an hour’s worth of life-saving measures on the young man. “It’s very rewarding to see [Corey] today. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.”

Corey and his younger brother, Blake, 8, were taken to the motocross track just before noon that Sunday by their father, Troy, for some leisure riding and practice. The family, formerly of Fallbrook, had recently moved to Temecula.

Corey, a student of Julian Charter School and a motocross competitor involved in the WORCS Racing Series, has been well on his way to making the professional circuit.

On that Sunday, Corey chose to ride his 2007 Kawasaki 250 to practice his technique on turns, jumps and straight-aways.

“I was on my second or third lap, came up the lip of a jump, and my bike seized in mid-air,” explained Corey. And that was all he remembered of the day.

Witnesses told the emergency workers and Corey’s family the motorcycle “went end over end and Corey flew about 30 feet in the air before landing on the ground.” The consensus of the crowd seemed to be that the motorcycle struck Corey’s body at least once, maybe twice.

Christy Freeman, Corey’s mother, who also works for the Valley News, explained the extent of his injuries.

“He had two collapsed lungs, [spinal] fractures at T-1 and C-7, a broken scapula, and two broken ribs,” she said. “He had to be given four units of blood.”

The first responders were paramedics from Pala Fire Department and initially Corey was able to communicate with them, as they transported him to the fire station for air transport to the hospital.

“The parking at the raceway was too impacted for the helicopter to be able to land there, so they took Corey to the fire station so the helicopter could pick him up,” said his mother.

As minutes ticked by, Corey’s condition began to worsen.

“He was gasping for air and telling us he couldn’t breathe,” said J. Emery of Pala Fire. “We figured the bike must have hit him in his back or chest, because air began getting trapped in his neck tissue.”

After the paramedics pulled in to the fire station with Corey, Mercy Air landed. It wasn’t long before both teams, a total of eight emergency workers, were assisting in his care. Corey’s family was told to drive to Children’s Hospital in San Diego and await his arrival via helicopter.

Shortly after that Corey’s condition worsened again and he went into cardiac arrest.

“[The situation] was a really hard one because [Corey] went down while we were there with him,” explained DeLaby. “We just had to set our priorities and work as a team to save him.”

In addition to numerous other life-saving measures that took place over the next 55 minutes, the doctor on board Mercy Air, Angie Pham, with DeLaby’s assistance, inserted chest tubes into Corey to remove the air that was filling up the space between his lungs and chest wall, which was causing pressure on his heart.

“It is an advanced procedure,” said DeLaby.

Explaining that some emergency medical service agencies and physicians are critical of chest tubes being used outside of a hospital environment, DeLaby stands firm on the choice that was made and the end result in Corey’s case.

“I guarantee you Corey wouldn’t be here today if we did not ; that is certain,” he said.

When Corey was stabilized enough for travel, the Mercy Air team felt he needed to be taken to the nearest trauma center, which ended up being Palomar Hospital, not Children’s. Corey’s family was already at Children’s when they were informed of the change due to his condition.

“I was in shock,” said Corey’s father, Troy. “When I left him, he was coherent, but then I heard he went downhill fast. I was in disbelief.”

Both of Corey’s parents said it was a life-changing experience for their family.

“I don’t take anything for granted now,” said Troy. “I’ve learned that things can change in a matter of seconds.”

“[The emergency workers] saved Corey’s life,” said Christy. “They all used their knowledge to the fullest; the tools they have and the judgment they show in saving people’s lives. I can’t say enough good things about them. I’m extremely impressed with what they’ve done for our family.”

Corey explained to the emergency workers on Tuesday that he spent 17 days in the hospital, nine of those in the intensive care unit.

When asked how he was feeling now, he grinned and said “really good” and proudly lifted his shirt to show them the incisions that are healing from where the tubes were placed in his chest.

“His stamina is still a little weak and he has just a little bit of back pain now and then,” explained his mother.

“He’s back at the gym; I think the fact that he was in good physical condition was also in his favor,” said his father. Corey is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries.

For the gathering on Tuesday, DeLaby arranged for the Mercy Air helicopter to land at the Pala Fire Department so that Corey and his family could have a close-up look at the medical air unit that assisted him several weeks ago.

“It’s weird, you know, looking at the helicopter I was in and all the things they have to save people’s lives; it’s really something,” said Corey.

Not only did Corey get a good look at it, he got complimentary victory flight over the area and that brought a brilliant smile to his face.

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