At first, Tyler Lintz thought he could push through. He was a firefighter after all, a fit, active dad of three, so a sore throat, fatigue, and cough — not a big deal.
But as he and his family drove snowmobiles around Bear River Lodge on December 7, 2018, he began to feel worse. The 32-year-old went back to bed, still not convinced he was that sick.
“It’s sad to say, but in the public service field, we don't want to use 911,” Lintz said. “I was pushing it off until I was coughing and throwing up blood—I had never been in that situation before.”
Now it was 2 a.m. and Lintz felt the worst he'd ever felt in his life. He told his wife he needed to go to the hospital, and his father-in-law drove them through the dark and snow to Evanston, Wyoming, where he learned he had strep pneumoniae. Then, his oxygen plummeted and he blacked out.
As the night went on, his wife contacted his captain and battalion chief at Unified Fire Authority in Kearns, where Lintz worked. The brotherhood went into action. Everyone wanted to help, to get him back to Salt Lake City where he could receive a higher level of care.
They knew the fastest and best way to get him there was with AirMed.
AirMed arrived and flew Lintz until fog forced the helicopter to land in Park City. The flight crew stayed with him as he traveled the final leg by ambulance to LDS Hospital, where his family waited.
But over the next few days, Lintz didn’t improve. Instead, he went into severe septic shock. His lungs stopped working. As Lintz grew worse, a flight nurse suggested the medical team try ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
In 2014, a program was created that trained specialized U of U Health nurses to collaborate with AirMed. Those include nurses from the cardiovascular ICU at University Hospital who work with AirMed flight crews to transport critically ill patients like Lintz between hospitals either by helicopter, airplane, or ground ambulance.
Kathleen Stoddard arrived at LDS Hospital with the AirMed flight crew. As University Hospital’s lead mechanical support nurse in the cardiovascular ICU, she often cares for patients in crisis. Lintz’s skin was a shade of blue grey.
The machine extracted blood from him—oxygenating it and reducing carbon dioxide—then returned the blood to his body. In about two minutes, Lintz’s blood oxygen level rose from 70 to 100 percent.
“If we had not done it when we did, he probably would have been dead within 24 hours—but probably sooner than that,” Stoddard said.
The fastest way to get him to nearby University Hospital was by ambulance, so the AirMed team, trained to give specialized care for very sick patients, monitored Lintz while Stoddard ran the ECMO machine.
On December 23rd, Lintz finally woke up. All he could remember from the past 15 days was vivid hallucination-like dreams in which he went on long search and rescue missions in New York City. Confused and scared, he was still intubated. He couldn’t talk. He’d lost 40 pounds of muscle and barely had the strength to sit in a chair.
“I had to learn how to walk again, eat again, do everything again—like I was a brand-new adult baby,” he said.
No one could ever explain exactly what caused his massive health crisis, but it forever changed his outlook on life and death.
“There were definitely a lot of moments, more than one, of me supposed to die,” said Lintz, who went on to recover and return to his work as a firefighter. “What really saved me was the advocacy of AirMed, the U of U, and LDS Hospital working together to be better for the patient—who was me.”