Family credits helmet with saving Vernon ATV rider’s life

Mike Gauthier and his wife Tanya.
Image Credit: Contributed

VERNON - A Vernon man airlifted to hospital after a gruesome accident in the North Okanagan backcountry is in rough shape, but alive — a blessing his family credits to his habit of never leaving on his quad without his helmet.

Mike Gauthier, his wife and their four young kids were camping in the Harris Creek area, near Lumby, over the Canada Day long weekend when he and a friend decided to take their ATVs out for a spin. His wife, Tanya, and the kids stayed behind.

As Gauthier was ascending a steep slope, his front tires suddenly lifted off the hill and the ATV crashed backwards, landing on top of him, Tanya’s sister in law Cassie Neigum says.

The crash left Gauthier badly injured. His head took most of the quad’s weight, with the handlebars crunching through the visor of his helmet. The impact left his face and skull badly injured and both his eyes severely damaged. 

Out of cell range, his friend raced back to the campsite to notify the family and call 911.

Because the location of the crash was up a steep trail not accessible to vehicles, Gauthier’s wife Tanya had to hike up the side of the mountain to be with him as they awaited help with friends.

“She sat with him until they (emergency crews) got there. He wasn’t talking but he was squeezing her fingers,” Neigum says.

Because of the rough terrain, paramedics had to put Gauthier on a stretcher and transport him partway down the mountain before he could get picked up by a B.C. Ambulance helicopter.

Gauthier was taken to Kelowna General Hospital, and subsequently moved to Vancouver General Hospital for more intensive treatment. On Monday, he underwent a 15-hour surgery to repair various skull and facial fractures. He will likely be blind due to the damage to his eyes, however doctors predict he will not suffer any brain damage.

“I absolutely think his helmet saved his life, everybody does,” Neigum says. “If he sustained this many injuries with the helmet on, imagine if he wasn’t wearing it?”

She describes Gauthier as an experienced rider who never left on a ride without his helmet, and is thankful this past weekend was no exception.

“The first thing I did when I talked to my brother after it happened was tell him to be safe and always wear a helmet, because he goes ATVing too,” Neigum says. “It’s a cautionary tale, and a good reality check that we always have to remain vigilant.”

While the accident happened quickly, the recovery process will be long and slow. Anyone wishing to help the family out financially can donate online, Neigum says.

“Every donation that comes in pretty much tears Tanya up,” Neigum says. “I think they feel loved in a very unfortunate situation.”

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