Lucky To Be Alive

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International Travel Assistance Medical Evacuation By: Roy Berger, MedjetAssist President/CEO

Photo Credit: Eli Reinholdtsen

“It was really fast and really terrifying. A total surprise. All I kept thinking was, ‘how am I going to break the fall?'”

David duChemin, world renowned professional photographer and Medjet member is lucky to be alive.

The last two people that fell from the identical spot were not as lucky.

duChemin, 39, from Vancouver, Canada makes a living taking pictures. He has published three best-selling books and is well known for his work as a photographer for advocacy and humanitarian groups around the world.

He has been in some of the most dangerous places one can imagine with camera in tow.

This particular evening, April 23 just past, David was in the relative sanctity of Tuscany, Italy mentoring a class of eight students. During his ‘spare’ time, Mr. duChemin teaches photo shops around the world and on this night, his students from Canada, Norway, Austria and the United States had just finished dinner and were walking back to their quarters.

They strolled past a wall that overlooks a canal that runs through Pisa. As the class sat on the wall, which according to David had the feel and appeal of a lover’s lane, our Medjet member wanted to memorialize the view on film.

As he stood on the wall ready to photograph, his ankle suddenly rolled. “I’m not a novice at this type of thing especially in some of the places I’ve been. I have experience as a rock climber and there certainly was enough of a ledge to support me but my ankle just gave way. I fell about 30 feet. Luckily, I landed on my feet but hit the ground with incredible impact. I later learned the last two people that fell from that same ledge were not as lucky as I was,” duChemin lamented.

His class looked on with horror. The group’s co-leader, Jeffrey Chapman, ran over to their hotel and ordered the desk clerk to call emergency services. Then Mr. Chapman ran down about 50 yards of stairs to get to the ravine where Mr. duChemin lay withering in pain.

David remembered, “It all happened so quickly. I was going into shock. I laid there for about five minutes when the first EMT arrived, and within about 10 minutes they had a crane in place to pull me back up to the street where the ambulance was parked. Let’s just say lifting me out of that well with a crane became the evening’s entertainment for hundreds of onlookers,” duChemin quipped.

Once safely uploaded into the ambulance they took him to hospital Reparto di Traumatologia Cisnelle in Pisa where according to duChemin, “they immediately proceeded to cut off all my clothing with the exception of my boots. I had two broken ankles and they wanted to tug my boots off rather than cutting them. Maybe it’s an Italian thing with leather, I’m not sure, but what I am sure of was I was howling from the pain!”

Lucky to be alive, the Pisa hospital team diagnosed duChemin with two fractured ankles (seemingly from the fall, not from pulling on the boots), a fractured pelvis and fractured wrist.

“The staff was wonderful but we had some language barriers to overcome and once it was determined I needed surgery, I knew I wanted to go home,” he said.

Cue his Medjet membership. “I bought Medjet back in 2007 figuring maybe I would catch a near fatal gastro disease in the Congo or something like that. Never did I imagine falling off a wall in Tuscany,” David chuckled.

He phoned his staff in Vancouver who called us and the process of repatriation began. He decided he wanted to be hospitalized in Ottawa, closer to family, and that certainly is a prerogative of membership.

Admittance was obtained, the Italian hospital was able to cast, splint and brace for the journey back to Canada and subsequent surgeries.

“Once the Medjet affiliate team got there everything was absolutely seamless,” duChemin said. “I was so glad to see people that spoke English. They evaluated me, joked with me and never stopped caring for me. Gentle, professional and extremely capable. They managed my pain the entire way home on the air ambulance and I never had the feeling of need. They took me right to my room in the Ottawa Civic Hospital and last I saw the nurse team, they were leaving and giving my mother a hug,” he said.

David came through surgery but is still hospitalized and will be for quite a while.

“They told me I would require six weeks of hospitalization and then three months totally off my feet. They said there is a chance I would never walk the same way again but I’m fighting those odds and determined to succeed. I am also profoundly grateful not to be paralyzed,” he said.

Mr. duChemin paid $250 for his annual Medjet International Travel Assistance membership. He hoped to never need it. The air transport back to Ottawa would have cost him $72,500 if not for an incredibly perceptive $250 investment.

“The entire Medjet experience was so far beyond my expectations,” duChemin said as he admittedly got teary-eyed. “I expected red-tape delays and anything else you could imagine, but once Medjet got involved the entire process was incredible. I can’t thank you enough!”

No David, we thank you for a wonderful story with a happy ending. Get well and get back to work as soon as you can. And maybe a new pair of boots with laces would be a great holiday gift from one of your followers!

Safe travels,

Roy Berger

(* Visit David’s website at