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Department of Surgery News Archive

September 2017

Flight-for-Life nurse receives new kidney

Dave Repsher, center, and his wife Amanda, left, talk with Matt Martinez, right, in the Copper Mountain Ski Patrol building Sept. 14, 2017. Martinez, a fellow volunteer ski patrolman and full-time electrician, donated a kidney to Dave in August. Photo by Andy Cross, The Denver Post.

Dave Repsher has spent much of his adult life helping others. He worked for years as a full-time ski patroller, then as an ambulance paramedic, then as a nurse with Flight for Life Colorado, providing emergency medical care to fellow Coloradoans.

Then, in July of 2015, the unthinkable happened: a Flight for Life helicopter crashed with Repsher on board. The helicopter had just lifted off from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, CO, when it began spinning erratically. The pilot, Patrick Mahany, tried to regain control, but the copter spiraled down and crashed into a motor home in a nearby parking lot. Less than five seconds later, with fuel spilling onto the pavement, the helicopter burst into flames.

Firefighters go to work on the blaze that took the life of helicopter pilot Patrick Mahany and left Dave Repsher burned across 90% of his body.

Repsher managed to get clear of the burning wreckage but was burned over 90% of his body. He was rushed to the Burn Center at University of Colorado Hospital, where he entered the care of our burn team, under the leadership of Drs. Anne Wagner and Arek Wiktor.

With his wife Amanda constantly at his bedside, Repsher fought for his life. Burns and skin grafts were just the beginning. At one point, he experienced uncontrolled bleeding. He got an infection in his blood. From his pre-crash weight of 180 pounds, he dropped to a low of 89 pounds. But he kept fighting.

Finally, after a year in the hospital and more than 45 surgical procedures, Repsher was stable enough to be released. He went home.

Having won the fight for survival against incredible odds, Repsher was grateful to be alive, but he now found himself facing many day-to-day challenges. Along with a host of other medical problems, he had severe kidney damage. As a result, he had to undergo dialysis four hours a day, five days a week. He was told that a kidney transplant could radically improve his life, but the wait list was long.

Dave Repsher and Matt Martinez in the hospital after their transplant surgeries

Repsher’s story eventually reached the ears of 39-year-old Matt Martinez of Superior, Colorado. Inspired by Repsher’s courage, Martinez decided to get tested to see if he could be a donor. He turned out to be a match.

The transplant surgeries were performed this fall at University of Colorado Hospital by surgeons Kendra Conzen, Peter Kennealey, and Trevor Nydam.

Matt Martinez says he doesn’t feel like a hero, but he has certainly become one to Dave Repsher and his wife. Repsher is now free of dialysis and is gratefully embarking on a new chapter in his extraordinary story.

You can read more of the story in The Denver’ Post’s 9/15/17 article. An earlier CBS-Denver story, filmed before the transplant, provides more background on the deadly helicopter crash and Repsher’s fight for survival.