There was a moment on the night of Oct. 22 when Damian Hefferland was convinced he was going bleed out on a dark Mission service road.
His friends had called for an ambulance after the 23-year-old crashed a quad, but were told Hefferland had been put on a waiting list even though his left leg was “dangling” by a thread and the gushing blood had created a tiny red river in the gravel.
As Hefferland struggled to stay conscious, he “started to say his goodbyes.”
He saw friends in his groggy mind. He saw family members.
He also saw Rollie, the chihuahua he loved and care for at his home in Mission, where he works as a residential framer.
“I thought Rollie might be left alone for days if I died,” Hefferland told the Record. “Who was going to take care of him?’
These are the things that go through your mind when you think your number is up.
Weeks later, Hefferland is looking back at what happened that night as he recovers from a horrific crash.
Hefferland is an experienced off-roader, but this was his first “night ride” on a quad. He joined his friends Chase Ramsay and Savy Lawrence, who rode on the back of the quad he was riding as they snaked their way through the area around and along the Sylvester service road.
The group was nearing the end of their night of fun and heading back to their vehicle, and doing a “respectful speed,” Hefferland said, when the crash happened.
Hefferland was approaching one of the road’s service gates on a downward slope when he tapped on the brakes – which inexplicably locked up on him.
Hefferland tried an evasive move to gain control, but about 30 feet from the gate, he suddenly realized that wasn’t going to happen.
“That’s when the panic set in,” he said. “I knew there wasn’t much I could do at that point.”
Hefferland said he tried to stand up a little and “buck” Lawrence off so she wouldn’t hit the gate before the quad crashed into it.
Lawrence was injured, Hefferland said, but he’s the one who ended up suffering the most damage as part of the gate jammed into his leg.
Once the quad had stopped, with the gate stuck into Hefferland’s leg, he tried to gather his senses. He ended up getting off the quad and trying to walk before collapsing.
“Everything went numb,” he said. “I thought I was paralyzed. My leg was dangling from my body. I thought, ‘My leg’s gone.’”
That’s when his friends swung into action.
Ramsay parked his quad so the light could illuminate the scene.
The pair called 911 and they were told to take whatever they could find – which was a sweater – and wrap the injured leg to stop the flow of blood.
Ramsay has first aid training and worked with Lawrence to wrap the leg and keep Hefferland calm.
That second part wasn’t working, as he says he was “screaming” from the pain.
That’s when the 911 operator told the trio that Hefferland was on a waiting list for an ambulance.
“When I heard that, I suddenly relaxed,” he said, “as if I knew there was no way I was getting through this.”
Hefferland was dizzy and couldn’t keep his eyes open as he thought of his friends, his family and, of course, Rollie.
Ramsay and Lawrence kept talking to Hefferland to keep him awake and fighting. Ramsay also called back 911 and demanded action, with Hefferland getting a burst of energy as he shouted out that he was going to bleed out.
That’s when the 911 operator said an ambulance was being dispatched from Stave.
Hefferland knows the area well, so he had the figure 15 minutes in his head between Stave and where he was lying in a pool of blood.
“I kept saying to myself, ’15 minutes, 15 minutes – you can do it, you can live’,” Hefferland said.
The sweater wasn’t really slowing the blood flow and the 911 operator told Ramsay to instead use his bare hands to squeeze the leg like a tourniquet and hold on.
Then, suddenly, another vehicle just happened along the road. Inside was a man who got out to see what was going on. He was asked if he had a belt and he took it off immediately so it could be used as a tourniquet.
“When they put on that belt, that was the worst pain I’ve felt in my entire life,” Hefferland said.
Then it just became a waiting game for the ambulance.
When it finally arrived, Hefferland felt his whole body relax in relief, even though he knew he was still in tough.
The ambulance drove and met another ambulance which carried blood supplies. Then Hefferland was driven to Mission Raceway, where an Air Ambulance flew him to Royal Columbian Hospital.
Among the injuries Hefferland suffered was a compound fracture of his femur, which now has a titanium rod inserted for the rest of his life.
“I was told at the hospital that I should have died,” Hefferland said. “They said that belt likely saved my life.”
Hefferland woke up at RCH to see his mom’s face.
“First thing I did was try and wiggle my toes,” he said. “I said, ‘I got my feet.’ My mom just laughed.”
Hefferland now faces a long journey of rehabilitation and physio to learn to walk again due to all the nerve, tendon and muscle damage.
Hefferland still has the belt and plans on meeting the man who supplied it when he’s well enough. Hefferland also says he can’t ever properly thank Ramsay and Lawrence for what they did.
Oh, and he plans on going out on a quad again – one day.
“If I can get on again, I definitely will,” he said. “The crash didn’t happen out of stupidity. It was the calmest, most relaxed ride. Just the wrong place at the wrong time.”