On March 17 about 13 days following the accident Ian Koop was lying in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit in the University of Alberta Hospital contemplating his future. He politely shared he was envisioning the potential of life in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with central cord syndrome which is paralysis of his body below the neck.
On January 23 Ian and three comrades packed up their gear and headed off to the Fox Creek region in Alberta to join the battle against the pine beetle infestation. “Our mission is to cut down and burn 24,000 trees but we are limited to two months because of fire bans and we need to have snow to prevent uncontrolled fires.” In spite of working long hours and facing adverse conditions such as flat tires, working in four feet of snow, cold weather, poor roads, power outage in town, wet clothing, the four young men were enjoying the experience. As reported by Alian Clement approximately half way through the contract, “Almost a month and Ian and I are now in a good rhythm (working together). We got stuck yesterday on the quad in four feet of snow. After an hour and a half of shovelling and winching we were able to get out safe and sound.”
A freak accident paralyzed Ian Koop
“It was one of those freak accidents. All I remember is sensing something coming at me out of the bush and getting hit on the back and side of the head and off the shoulders. I didn’t get knocked out but my hard hat broke and fell in the snow and the saw fell out of my hands because I was instantly paralyzed. I was lying by the tree that hit me, and (noted) it was not the one I felled. I am lucky in my accident I didn’t break anything or sever anything but when it happened I instantly felt like I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move and could barely talk.
“Upon further investigation they said it was such a freak accident and described the accident like winning a lottery; chances of it happening like 1 in 10 million. Everything I had done was according to procedure. I couldn’t see the tree that got snagged and came back through 4 healthy mature spruce trees that on a normal day wouldn’t have got a tree through it. It was just a freak accident.
“They got me to the medic truck that came from a rig site close by and transported me to Valleyview in a blizzard. Following x-rays I was transported to Grand Prairie for CT scans and then back to Valleyview for the evening. The next morning I was flown to the international airport by private jet and transported by ambulance to the University of Alberta hospital.”
What followed was months of sheer determination, pain and uncertainty in the battle to overcome the paralysis; a battle that was too extreme to be adequately described with words but Ian describes his main driving forces were “not wanting to be a burden on anyone and the support of loved ones”.
Ian Koop back at work the summer of 2015
On August 8 Ian Koop, and his crew were hard at work clearing a wooded area west of the Spruce View Carwash in Wetaskiwin. “I am still experiencing a lot of pain and can’t do many of the things I used to do as I get tired very quickly. But with my crew and having modified some procedures and equipment I am now able to do many of the jobs. Although I won’t be physically able to do the pine beetle stint again, the firewood and forestry work we are doing keeps us busier than ever.”
Ian owns and operates a wood business, Saws ‘N’ Ladders located in Wetaskiwin. He is a certified chain saw operator, a certified faller, has first aid tickets and can operate throughout western Canada with certification for oil, gas and government. “My experience and training is what likely saved my life. It is also why I can proudly say that when Occupational Health and Safety did the inspection they told me we had done everything right. This accident was my first time-lost injury in my 12 years in the wood industry.”
Road to recovery changes views about life
Everyone is likely to react differently to accidents and misfortunes. The extremely athletic young man I met on our first visit prior to his trip to Fox Creek lay in the hospital bed attempting to re-gain his movement and life. In spite of being paralyzed from the neck down and facing an uncertain future, Ian shared jokes and laughed. It seemed like he had assumed the attitude “it could have been worse” and let’s work at making it better. But this shocking experience changed how Ian viewed life and his message to others.
“For sure it makes you appreciate life more and especially appreciate your family and relationships. Everything you have done in the past is without thinking (about a serious injury) and then you come here (University Hospital) and witness what people are going through and what you are going through. You really begin to rethink your life. Maybe change some things and downgrade some things that you realize are not that important (boys toys) or realize there are some things you may not want to do any more.”
Note by Barry McDonald
I personally want to thank Ian, his family and his friends for sharing the different stages (and often difficult) of this story with me and the 24,000 readers of the Pipestone Flyer; adventure, tragedy and finally the demanding road to recovery. Welcome back Ian.