August 6, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
As a young boy , Christopher Smith’s life dreams didn’t extend much beyond skateboarding and mountain biking. Little did he know that it would take a near-death experience to change his life – and his destiny.
Sitting with his four-year-old daughter, Maddie, in his lap, Christopher smiles as he describes the event that changed his life and would ultimately reveal his true calling; a career as a flight paramedic.
“I was in an accident and lost my leg, and nearly lost my life,” he remembers. “They (the emergency workers) said I had lost a significant amount of blood. I was literally near death, and needed an air ambulance.”
A street luge accident at the age of 16, in 2001, forced Chris to decide whether to keep or amputate his right leg. The impact shattered his fibula just above the ankle, tore through two of three arteries, and displaced the tendons that communicated movement to the toes. After a failed attempt at fusing the bone, he came to the conclusion that a prosthesis would give him the best chance at continuing his desired level of activity.
While still in his teens, he championed as a member of the United States national amputee hockey team. Christopher continues to help other physically challenged athletes, assisting with the Paralympic bobsled team, skiers and snowboarders.
After receiving his prosthesis, Christopher went to college and graduated from Utah Valley University with a bachelor of science in Emergency Services Administration. He became a lead beta tester for Otto Bock Healthcare, a maker of prosthetic limbs in Salt Lake City.
He found his passion in the health care field, specifically emergency medicine. He went on to receive his EMT (emergency medical technician) training, and studied emergency medicine. From there, he went to work as an EMT for an ambulance service. Christopher trained to become a flight paramedic before joining Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance in January.
“I literally owe my life to the paramedics on the air medical transport flight who saved me, and that’s why it’s become my passion — to help save the lives of other people,” he said.
As a part of the medical team, flight paramedics are critical in helping to stabilize patients in the field, treating them while in flight, and assisting with their delivery to a hospital or facility. This includes having a full report of their injuries and the treatments performed to save their lives. They also must attend a rigorous paramedic training program, build up five or more years of clinical experience, and pass the certification required to provide patient care on a medical aircraft.
“As an EMT, keeping up with the training and learning the current technologies – in a field that’s constantly and rapidly developing – is right now my biggest challenge,” he says, adding, “There is always a lot of information to learn, to know, and to train on with the latest equipment and technology.”
Christopher says his life is active and full, especially with things like picking up his little girl from her dance lessons while mom is at work. He also volunteers as a soccer coach and works with his church’s young men’s sports teams.
“Although the accident changed my life, it didn’t challenge my life – I still snowboard, snow ski, mountain bike — it hasn’t kept me from doing the things I love to do.”
He says his motivation comes from simply being grateful for those whose service saved his own life, and he wanted to express that gratitude through making it his career.
“Because of my experience I am grateful to the paramedics who saved my life, and to show that, I’m passionate about what I do…I’m passionate about helping to be a part of saving people’s lives.”
Christopher turns to Maddie and asks, “What does Daddy do?” After a pause, she looks at him thoughtfully and says, “You put people who are hurt in the ambulance and take them to the hospital.”
He says among the many things his little girl has told him she wants to be when she grows up, a doctor who saves lives is one of them. Like father, like daughter.