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Jackson Hole, WY News

AIR AMBULANCE: Who flew and what they paid

Mike Connolly

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Mike Connolly

Mike Connolly, 63, who splits his time between Idaho Falls and Victor, had a heart attack while backcountry skiing in the Tetons two years ago. He took two helicopter rides during that incident: the first during a short-haul operation with a Search and Rescue helicopter that plucked him off the east face of Maverick — a mountain in Grand Teton National Park — and a second flight with Air Methods that flew him to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Transport details: Helicopter to Idaho Falls

Bill: $58,000

Insurance: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Idaho

Air ambulance provider: Air Methods

Insurance reimbursement: $19,000

Paid: $0; had Air Methods membership

Mike Connolly, 63, was using climbing skins to ski up Maverick in Grand Teton National Park in 2017 when he started to feel chest pains. He was having a heart attack. Luckily, he and his wife had signed up for a family membership of $75 a year with the air ambulance company Air Methods in 2016.

“Fortuitously, we thought because we play all the time,” Connolly trailed off.

His wife, Julie, first called Air Methods. They told her to hang up and call 911. Connolly went into cardiac arrest, stopped breathing and had no pulse.

A Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter delivered rescuers and a defibrillator to the east face of Maverick and plucked Connolly off the mountain. Rescuers transferred him from the Search and Rescue helicopter to a waiting Air Methods helicopter, which flew him to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. At the hospital he went into cardiac arrest again. He spent a week there between intensive care and cardiac care wards.

Connolly described feeling “flabbergasted” when he received a call from Air Methods only a few days after returning home with a whopper of a bill. Despite his membership, Air Methods told him to file a protest claim with his insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Idaho. Connolly described half a dozen aggressive calls before Air Methods eventually left him alone.

“They were trying to use me to get Blue Cross to pay them more money,” he said.

Now he tries to educate everyone he meets about air ambulances and the various traps patients can fall into. Ten months after the incident he went back to the same spot on Maverick with his wife and ski partner.

“It was pretty emotional,” Connolly said. “We had a beer on the spot and skied down.”

Contact Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or rebecca@jhnewsandguide.com.

Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington has worked for newspapers across the West. She hosts a rescue podcast, The Fine Line. Her family minivan doubles as her not-so-high-tech recording studio.

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