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Thought of mom's cooking saves man (Native hunter falls through ice, loses leg).

COLD LAKE, Alta.

Dan McFeeters spent 15 years as a driller, but says his brushes with danger in the oil patch will never compare to the horrific predicament he faced last December.

McFeeters was headed for home on foot during the late morning of Dec. 17 when he chanced upon a moose trail along the edge of French Bay on Cold Lake, Alta..

With temperatures hovering around the minus-20s, McFeeters had dressed warmly. A slightly fresh layer of snow blanketed the ground.

As he tracked the moose, he had to cross a slough adjacent to the lake. He approached the edge of the slough when the ice gave way and McFeeters went in. There was nothing to indicate thin ice.

Somehow he managed to escape, but McFeeters had no dry clothing, no axe and no matches. There were no homes or roads close by. Fortunately, he did have on layers of clothing, roughneck boots and a knife.

"I didn't want to walk across the slough," he said, although there was a payphone near a provincial campsite two miles distant. It was 200 to 300 yards across.

The wind had picked up and it began to snow.

"I dug a hole in the (snow) bank of the lake and packed it down," he said. Using his windbreaker as a shell above his body, he wrung out his soaked clothes. He removed his boots and wrung out the felt liners. But the right boot froze in a closed position and McFeeters was unable to pull it back on.

He wrapped his right foot with his hooded shirt even though it was wet. He also put one of his coats over his jeans and around his legs. That probably saved his one leg.

He pulled his arms and tucked his head inside his other shirt.

"I used my breath to keep warm," he stated.

McFeeters was trapped for three days and two nights.

"I was worried about falling asleep," he reported. He was also hungry and thirsty. He tried to eat a bit of snow but "it would cool my insides and I'd breath out cold air," he explained.

He figured the wind and snow would let up soon. It didn't. He thought someone might come along. That never happened. Worse yet, nobody knew his whereabouts and he wouldn't be reported missing for some time.

The third day, McFeeters forced himself to get mobile. "The only thing that kept me going," he said, "was thoughts of mom's homemade apple pie and hot chocolate."

The wind and snow had eased up a bit, so he set off to cross the half-mile-wide bay. That was a grueling two-to-two-and-a-half hours of pure torture.

"I'd take about 10 steps, then fall. Then I'd have to start over again," he stated. He had to drag his bad (right) leg that was lying crooked.

There were times he thought of quitting. "Every time I'd want to stop, I'd think of mom's pie and hot chocolate and it kept me going." It got to a point where he would consciously think of that treat as motivation to continue.

Once across the bay, he hauled himself another half mile along a bush trail to the payphone. The operator connected him with the hospital whose staff members, Barb and Linda, told him to remain where he was, to stay on the phone and to remain conscious.

Eighteen minutes later, they told him to look down the road.

"I looked and saw an ambulance coming. It was now Dec. 19, about 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon," he explained. "I was never so happy to see people in my life!" Had it not been for the two ladies at Cold Lake Hospital, "I might not have made it at all," claims McFeeters. "They kept me talking and conscious until the ambulance arrived."

The ambulance attendants placed hot packs on the sides of his legs, under his arms and wrapped his chest in warm blankets. They told him, "another five minutes and they wouldn't have found me alive. The doctor told me my core temperature was normal--about 36, 37--but it dropped to 32 by the time I was at the hospital."

He was transferred to the University of Alberta Hospital, where he was informed he would lose his right leg, eight inches below the knee. McFeeters was "kind of shocked." He figured he might just lose some toes, maybe a foot. That's when his positive mentality kicked in.

"I figured I was lucky to even be alive," he said.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lusty, Terry
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Words:757
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