Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Broken leg brings out the best in Haines

 

February 20, 2020 | View PDF



While shattered lower leg bones, emergency surgery, and weeks of immobilization sound like a devastating situation, for Haines resident Woody Pahl, it has also served as a reminder of the way the Haines community looks after its own.

On Feb. 8, Pahl crashed while competing in the Alcan 200 snowmachine race. He was thrown from the sled and landed on his feet, crushing several bones on impact. 

“Someone might as well have shoved a chunk of dynamite up (his right leg) and let it go,” said Zack Ferrin, who has been spearheading efforts to raise money for Pahl’s medical bills and for renovations to his boat for the upcoming fishing season.

After the crash, the Coast Guard helicoptered Pahl to Juneau where he was stabilized before being flown to Anchorage. Pahl underwent a five-hour emergency surgery the following day. Doctors replaced fragmented bones with a titanium rod running from knee to ankle and numerous plates and screws, Pahl said. 

While Pahl did not have medical insurance at the time of the accident, he was up-to-date with his Guardian Flight insurance thanks to his girlfriend, Jackie St. Clair, Pahl said.

“With Woody being a fisherman in the summer and a backcountry recreator in the winter, his lifestyle is on the higher end of the injury risk spectrum,” St. Clair said. “We got Guardian Flight insurance after his last snow machine wreck, when he got flown out by the Coast Guard. It’s only $125 to cover our entire family for a year, so even if you had to get flown by them once in a lifetime it seems worth it to me. I don’t know how much his Guardian Flight to Anchorage would have cost without it, but I’m sure it was more than $125.”

“I support Woody pursuing his passions, but I also have a tendency to imagine worst case scenarios. When we were gathering things up the night before the race, double checking his medevac insurance was on the top of my list… It made me feel better knowing that if something happened, at least the flight would be covered,” she said.

Although Pahl’s flight was covered, medical bills were still substantial. The week after Pahl’s surgery, Ferrin organized a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $5,000 to help with medical expenses. In four days, the campaign raised over $6,200. And the donations are still coming in, Ferrin said.

“I’m blown away and extremely grateful,” Pahl said. “It’s super awesome to live in such a supportive community. I had no idea the way people would pull together for me.” He said anything left over after the medical bills will go toward his boat, the Melinda Rae II, which has been in the shop this winter.

Pahl “is in the process of re-powering the vessel with a new Cummins, new reduction gear, new decks, new holds, and much more for the upcoming shrimp and gillnet seasons,” Ferrin said. “He dumped his heart and soul into that boat.”

Pahl said he had concerns about getting injured going into the Alcan 200 because of the work he had planned for his boat this winter. He had planned to do all the work himself, but that will no longer be possible, he said.

Pahl said he doesn’t anticipate any more surgeries, but he’ll know more after his checkup on Feb. 25. He starts physical therapy this week, but it will be six to eight weeks before he can start putting weight on his leg again, which means it will be April before he can resume work on his vessel. 

This puts Pahl in a bind because he is slated to start fishing on May 20, Ferrin said. And even if Pahl’s boat is in shape in time, he’ll still need a deckhand or two for the season as he continues to recover..

In addition to the crowd-funding effort, Ferrin said he’s putting together a “work party to have people donate their time and labor to work on Woody’s boat.” The Uglys of Haines and Northern Southeast Gillnetters Association are organizing a seafood dinner fundraiser, he said.

Racing in the Alcan came together at the last minute for Pahl this year, Ferrin said. The sled Pahl had planned to race wasn’t working, so he was going to skip it. But then Ferrin himself had to drop out due to medical issues and offered Pahl his sled. 

“I’m never lending anyone a sled again,” Ferrin said. “I’ve donated three sleds and got none of them back--one burnt to the ground, another guy broke his hip, and then Woody broke his leg.”

Ferrin’s not the only one with an unlucky track record. Though only in his early 30s, Pahl already has an impressive list of snowmachining injuries. “This is my third… accident. Last one was about three years ago. That one I got clotheslined off my snowmachine by a branch going 60 mph. I punctured a lung, lacerated my spleen, broke ribs,” he said. “In 2011, I jumped off a cliff at Walker Lake, the throttle twisted in the air, and the snowmachine went nose down. I shattered my nose and the peak of my skull into crumbs,” resulting in three hours of reconstructive surgery.

“If Woody can break something, he will,” Ferrin said. “He’s definitely a cat; he’s got nine lives.”

“I’ll probably slow my roll,” Pahl said of future Alcan plans. “If I do end up racing it will be in a smaller class with a sled that doesn’t go as fast. But my girlfriend says, ‘No (to future Alcan racing).’”

“When I first talked to him after the accident, he said, ‘absolutely not, no way. I’m sticking to mountain riding.’ But now his answer’s changed,” Ferrin said. “Once you race the Alcan, you either love it or hate it. I think he’ll be back.”

Pahl will stay with family in Anchorage for at least a month while he goes to follow-up appointments and completes physical therapy, Ferrin said. The dinner fundraiser co-hosted by the Uglys and Gillnetters Association will take place on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the American Legion Hall. Ferrin said organizers are still finalizing details about time and food but “sockeye and shrimp will be on the menu for sure.”

 
 

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