JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Family and friends are rallying around a Dale Borough man who is fighting for his life after a swimming accident left him paralyzed.
Dale Thomas, 50, of Nathaniel Street, was vacationing with family in Myrtle Beach on July 16 when he was severely injured by a large wave, said his wife, Kelly Mattern-Thomas.
Dale was standing in the surf with his son, Joshua, and other family members and friends when the wave hit him, his wife said.
“They were standing right before where the waves would break,” she said. “They were out there just basically jumping the waves. Joshua said a big wave came over their heads. After the wave, they didn’t see him.”
At first his son and the others thought Dale had decided to body surf in on the wave, she said.
“All of a sudden, he was floating face-down in the water.”
Joshua and two other men were able to get Dale onto the beach, but he was not breathing and they could find no pulse, Kelly said.
Two nurses who happened to be on the beach performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. They were able to restore a pulse, Kelly said.
Dale was rushed to Waccamaw Community Hospital at Murrells Inlet and later transferred to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, a Level I trauma center.
Doctors said he has a high neck fracture, which usually is fatal. Dale is paralyzed from the neck down.
The prognosis is not good.
“They are really not expecting any improvement,” his wife said.
Doctors recommended transferring Dale to a Level II trauma center, so family members asked to bring him home to Johnstown for care at Memorial Medical Center’s Level II center.
When Dale’s insurance provider balked at covering the $12,000 air ambulance transport, family members turned to a Memorial emergency medicine specialist.
The Johnstown doctor essentially wrote a prescription saying the trip home was “medically imperative,” Kelly said.
Even then, the air ambulance service wanted payment front. A family member loaned her the transport fee.
“I’m crossing my fingers that the insurance company will come through,” Kelly said.
“I don’t know when I’ll find that out.”
Dale has regained consciousness and is trying to communicate, but has had difficulty talking with all the tubes that are attached, his wife said.
“Today he wiggled his eyebrows at me,” she said.
Dale remained listed in critical condition at Memorial this week.