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Published February 11, 2010, 02:28 PM

In elevator rescue, corn was only part of the concern

From the outside of the Feely Elevator silos, onlookers were left to wonder what was happening inside the silo where Mark Malecha was trapped. Inside, though, medics worked diligently to save Malecha not only from being crushed by the shifting corn, but from toxins that were building up inside his body while he was trapped.

By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent

From the outside of the Feely Elevator silos, onlookers were left to wonder what was happening inside the silo where Mark Malecha was trapped.

Inside, though, medics worked diligently to save Malecha not only from being crushed by the shifting corn, but from toxins that were building up inside his body while he was trapped.

The latter, referred to as crush syndrome, could have resulted in serious complications once Malecha was pulled from the silo. Dr. Paul Satterlee, associate medical director for Allina Medical Transportation, explained that crush syndrome happens when big muscle groups in the body are subjected to an unusual amount of weight for an extended period.

In Malecha’s case, his entire lower body and much of his upper body were buried by the corn. Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist likened the consistency of the semi-frozen freshly poured cement, which meant Malecha was unable to move his extremities. Over time, Satterlee said, the blood flow is affected because the extremities are unable to move. When that happens, acidic toxins build up in the body.

Once the body is freed, the blood begins to flow again. When that happens, the acids also flow through the body and, left untreated, attack the heart and kidneys. Consequences can be fatal.

Understanding that Malecha was likely going to suffer some form of crush syndrome, Satterlee said, medics dispensed sodium-bicarbonate three times while Malecha was still in the silo. Sodium bicarbonate breaks down the acids, Satterlee said. Once he was removed from the silo, Malecha received another infusion before he was loaded into the ambulance, and once again en route to Hennepin County Medical Center.

“We’ve trained for something like this,” Satterlee said. “We have had to plan for the bad events. Corn doesn’t pack as tight as sand or mud, but this is the same thing as a building collapse.”

Some wondered if the corn dust - which can be highly explosive - was dangerous to Malecha’s respiratory system. It was a consideration, Satterlee said, but medics were more worried about the cold temperatures in the silo, and what that could be doing to Malecha’s body. A couple of times, medics gave Malecha warm fluids to keep his body teamperature at a safe level.

And, of course, they were worried the corn might shift and bury Malecha, possibly causing him to suffocate. The medics who were in the silo are also trained as firefighters, Satterlee said. They were there not only to attend to Malecha, but also help to dig him out.

Doing that kind of job was taxing to the medics, too. The medics working in the silo were changed out about every half hour or so. Satterlee was on the scene at the end, riding with Malecha in the ambulance, but knew what had been going on all day.

“I was in radio contact with the medics all day. It was blended really well by all the people who worked that scene,” he said.

Satterlee also commended Malecha for remaining calm and collected while the rescue mission unfolded.

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