SHEGUIANDAH—In an instant, things can change dramatically, sometimes permanently.
It’s a truism but it’s one that Barb and Wade Kearns, the busy proprietors of Green Acres Restaurant and Campground of Sheguiandah, together with their large family are experiencing just now. Their 27-year-old grandson, Scott Wheeler, remains on life support at Health Sciences North, the result of a dramatic 30 feet-plus fall and ensuing injuries.
Scott Wheeler lives in St. George, a community located near Brantford. This summer, when he was between jobs, he volunteered to help his grandparents at Green Acres. So did another grandson, 16-year-old Logan Kearns, who is from Cambridge and will begin Grade 12 this fall.
Two weeks ago, on July 25, the cousins decided to take one of their exploratory trips to see more of Manitoulin Island. This day-off adventure took them to the Mississagi Lighthouse Park property at Manitoulin’s westernmost tip, about 15 km beyond the village of Meldrum Bay. It was the first time either cousin had ventured that far west on Manitoulin.
That’s where everything changed in a split second for the Kearns family.
The two had been walking along the top of the cliff face, high above the Mississagi Straits, behind the Mississagi Lighthouse. It was about 5 pm, Logan Kearns recalled in an interview with The Expositor, and the pair decided to position themselves to get the best photo of the lighthouse from that vantage point before they left for home.
They took the photos they wanted but when Scott turned around to step up from one rock to another, his knee “gave out” and he toppled backwards, falling over 30 feet past a sheer cliff face into the water below, hitting a submerged rock.
Things happened quickly after that. Logan yelled out when he saw what was happening and he remembers someone nearby coming over to see what was going on, and that person in turn calling out to friends.
Logan, meanwhile, leapt into the water from the same height from which his cousin had fallen but in his case, he landed feet-first on a rock beach adjacent to where Scott had hit the water on his back. Logan is a wiry youth, surprised now that he didn’t hurt himself with the jump and landing. He remembers putting out his hand to stabilize himself on impact. “I jumped down to see what I could do,” he says now. He figures that his instinct to make the jump right after his cousin’s fall was guided by “pure adrenalin.”
And things continued to happen quickly. Remember that Logan had called out when Scott fell and someone came quickly to the top of the cliff, also hailing his friends?
One of then, in the Kearns family’s opinion, is a hero and they would like to contact him.
This man, who Logan thinks is an American who was also exploring the Mississagi Lighthouse site that day, quickly made his way down to the water’s edge where he helped Logan move his cousin out of the water and onto the rock beach.
At this point, Scott was fully conscious and, Logan suspects, in shock. “He actually got up and was walking. He went about 30 feet to a spot where he wanted to sit down.” Logan and his unknown helper urged Scott to lie down. He would only sit, though.
Cell service was not good and Logan says it took “three tries” to reach 911 and explain that urgent emergency medical help was needed at this remote site.
By 7:20 pm, the emergency medical helicopter had landed nearby and Scott was on his way directly to Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Northeastern Ontario’s main trauma centre.
Scott was stabilized and given a CT scan on arrival at the hospital. This revealed that one of his vertebrae was shattered by the impact. His spinal cord, tests indicated, had not been severed so he has been handled appropriately, and has been in an induced coma and on life support (which included dialysis, grandmother Barb Kearns explains) during his stay in hospital in the trauma unit.
This past Sunday, August 6, he received surgery to stabilize his spinal column.
This was his second surgery. The first one was an emergency procedure the morning after he was admitted to hospital when it was discovered that his small intestine had ruptured and he had subsequently suffered a major bleed out.
Barb Kearns explained that, around 6 am the morning after his fall, her grandson “flatlined” in the hospital. A surgeon worked to repair the ruptured organ and he has been on continuous antibiotics to stem to the abdominal infection resulting from the release of intestinal products into his abdominal cavity.
Scott’s family has been with him in Sudbury since the accident and the senior Kearns have been to the hospital when they can get there and are getting sometimes-hourly updates from their daughter.
Logan wasn’t the only member of the family to begin to operate “on adrenalin” after Scott’s mishap. When Wade and Barb learned what had happened, they closed down the restaurant immediately, Wade recalls, asking a full house of diners to leave, explaining what had just happened. The grill was turned off but food was left on it.
They left immediately, planning to drive the length of the Island to the Mississagi Lighhouse Park but by the time they got to M’Chigeeng, they realized that Scott would been airlifted to Sudbury by the time they made the long drive. Wade was inspired to stop at the UCCM Police Services main office in M’Chigeeng where Constable Brad Mack let them in and they were able to hear precisely what was going on with the emergency medical evacuation of their grandson on the police radio. They heard the talk of Scott being loaded into the helicopter and leaving for Sudbury which was their prompt to turn around and also head for Health Sciences North.
Constable Mack continued to be part of Kearns family’s support system that day when he drove to the scene of the mishap to pick up Logan and bring him home. This ended up being a relay effort as Constable Mack was required elsewhere and, on the way back, Constable Baxter took charge of Logan’s transport, bringing him home to Sheguiandah.
These officers are important to the Kearns family, as is OPP Constable Daryl Leighton who was the first police officer on the scene and who has remained in touch with and supportive of the family.
Wade and Barb Kearns and Logan would very much like to contact the person who helped Logan move his cousin out of the water that day. Logan thinks he was a visitor from the U.S. but otherwise has no idea of his identity. The Kearns family can be reached at 705-368-2428 if anyone has any idea of who this person may be and how he can be contacted.
And finally, something about Scott Wheeler. Logan recalls that, when he was airlifted from the beach, Scott was conscious and made a point of thanking everyone who was there to help him, including shaking everyone’s hands. Scott was in pain and was swearing, and then apologizing for swearing.
“Scott is a very kind man and very respectful,” Logan notes.