Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: July 7, 1990
On the morning of July 7, 1990, 28-year-old David Jones and Sandi Taylor, his 19-year-old girlfriend, headed out for the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, less than 10 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. They had been going out together for only a few months, and on that day David planned to take Sandi hiking along one of his favorite trails. "Red Rock Canyon is an absolutely beautiful place to be," David said. "Because it's very isolated, it tends to be romantic, so it was a good opportunity for us to get to know each other a little bit better."
When they got to the point where they were to leave their car and start their hike, David checked the supplies while Sandi debated whether she should wear a hat her father had given her to keep the sun off her head. "But she really didn't like how it looked," David said. So in spite of the bright sun and the intense heat (which would reach well over 105 Fahrenheit that day), Sandi decided not to wear it.
"The going was pretty easy at first," David said. "But progressively, it got more and more difficult. It was hot. The temperature was easily over 100 degrees. Sandi is a less experienced hiker than I am, but she just kept going." When they stopped to eat their sandwiches, Sandi realized the effort of the hike had left her famished. "I am so hungry that anything would taste good," she told David. After lunch, they decided to hike back down the canyon. "Are you okay, Sandi?" David asked as they started out again. "Sandi?" "Yeah, I'm okay," she responded, but with a note of fatigue in her voice. "The sun was directly over our heads," David recalled, "so it was getting a little bit hotter."
After they'd walked for a while, David asked Sandi again if she was okay. "You know, I'm really tired," she said weakly. "Could we just sit down for a minute?" David was resistant. "Sandi, if we stop, what are we going to do?" he asked. Both of us were now really hot. I didn't realize how bad the heat can be or what it can do to you. The water that we had was almost gone by this time. I felt it was better just to push it and get to the truck," he later explained.
"We're almost to the truck," he told Sandi. "Air conditioning as soon we get there." Then, suddenly, Sandi, who had been walking behind, come hurtling past him down the trail. "Sandi, what are you doing?" David cried out in surprise. "All of a sudden, she just took off, running down the trail," he said. Then she collapsed, and David rushed to her side. "When I got to her, she was incoherent and her face was very, very red. I had no idea what was going on with her," he said. "Sandi, are you okay? Talk to me!" David said desperately. "Here, come on, let's get up. Come on!" he said. "We're almost to the car." But Sandi just lay there. "Come on! Come on!" David urged again, trying to drag her to her feet.
"We had not seen another person in our whole hike, the whole day. I didn't know whether I should leave her and go get some help. I didn't know which way to turn." Providentially, 17-year-old Melissa Durfee and her boyfriend, Jim Thacker, also happened to be hiking the same trail, and within a few seconds they came around a bend and discovered David and Sandi. "Hey, you guys, come here, I need some help," David called out to them.
"When I saw her, something just clicked in my mind that it was from the heat," Melissa said. "We had almost turned back ourselves because it was just too much." "She was complaining about how hot it was," David told them, trying to describe what had happened. "When I touched her she was red and puffy," Jim said. "She was scary hot." The three of them lifted Sandi up and carried up to the shade of a small tree, which offered some protection from the sun.
We knew we needed to get her temperature down, so we got her to some shade," Melissa said. "Then we started pouring water on her head. We just assumed that she would wake up--right away. But the longer it took, the more frightened we became." Sandi began throwing up, and the three of them began to sense the seriousness of the situation.
"She wasn't coming out of it. We decided this was pretty bad," said Jim. "We kept the water on her neck and on her chest area and over her head. Her skin ate the water up--it was that hot. We wrapped up her head so that it would hold the water to her, but she still wasn't coming out of it. I started to think that this person might not make it. There was a ranger station several miles down the road. We decided to go get help." "You'll be okay. You'll be fine," David said to Sandi. "They'll be back in a few minutes. You'll be okay."
"I tried to talk to her," he said later, "and there was absolutely nothing--no response. I kept thinking, why didn't I just listen to her? I kept hearing her voice saying over and over, 'Why don't we just stop? Why don't we just rest for a while?' All of this could have been avoided, but I just kept pushing."
More than 30 minutes passed before the hikers returned with help, including Spring Mountain Ranch park ranger Jim Black. "It was almost immediately apparent that this woman was suffering from heatstroke," said Black, "which means extremely overheated and lost it ability to regulate its temperature. This is a condition where someone might die in just a very few minutes before my eyes."
Realizing that Sandi needed immediate medical attention, the rangers radioed for a Flight for Life helicopter, which arrived within 20 minutes. Flight nurse Chris Adams quickly took charge at the scene. "What's going on? What have we got?" she asked Black. "Heatstroke," was the immediate reply. "Her condition was very serious," said Adams, "considering that they'd began cooling her aggressively for at least half an hour. Her temperature was very high--104.5. You literally are just kind of cooking the tissues in your different organs."
She gave Sandi oxygen and fluids intravenously to rehydrate her and placed ice packs at critical points on her body, as Sandi struggled against the tube they were putting down her throat. "I needed to cool her down as quickly as possible. I applied ice packs and I started the IV line to help rehydrate her, but I've never seen a heatstroke victim that's lost conscious survive--particularly one with as high a temperature as she had." "Sandi, even though she was unconscious, she was fighting," David said. "And I knew at that point in time, even though we'd just been dating for a very short period, that this girl had a tremendous strength inside."
Sandi was loaded onto the helicopter and transported to Valley Hospital Medical Center, where she arrived in a coma with a body temperature of 105 Fahrenheit, and was placed under the care of emergency physician Tony Frederick. "We immediately applied cool compresses over her entire body," Frederick said, "and had fans blowing on her because evaporation is the most efficient means to cool these patients. However, her condition did not really improve. I felt that this woman could easily die or have permanent brain damage." Sandi was kept in the intensive care unit, where doctors continued to monitor the swelling of her brain.
Sandi's parents, Bob and Suzanne Taylor, came to the hospital as soon as they were notified. "When I saw her, my heart just sank," said Suzanne. "You would talk to her, and her eyes were wide open, but there was nothing there." "All of your hopes and dreams are wrapped in your first child," Bob said. "All the things that you ever wanted for her, you see the possibility of that being snuffed out. I could never imagine not having her there with us."
"We're all deeply religious," David said, "and so the first thing that we thought of was to give her a blessing. We had to put our faith in God to help Sandi pull through this. And the next morning, her mother greeted me and said, 'David, she's out of the coma, and it looks like she's going to be okay.'" Miraculously, Sandi beat the odds and made a complete recovery, with no sign of brain damage. Six months after the incident, she and David were married.
"When you're in a situation when someone's life is in danger, there is a strong bond that is created," David said. "Sandi is just a beautiful person. She's fun to be around. She really is a great companion to me. The friendship that we've had and the love that we've shared with each other has been absolutely incredible. My life today is so much richer and so much fuller." "I just remember that it was really hot," Sandi said. "I felt like my head was frying, but I didn't know that 'Gee, this is a sign of heatstroke, so I'd better really be careful.' I should have slowed down and I should have drunk a lot more, but I didn't want to be embarrassed by the fact that I was feeling kind of sick. I never blamed David for what happened."
"Sandi is one of the very few and very lucky people who recover 100% fully from this type fo heatstroke," Bob said. "If you're going to go out and be exposed to these kinds of temperatures, have plenty of water, and you have to take protection from the sun. Wear a hat--and most important of all, listen to your father."
"I look at my baby daughter, Sarah, sometimes and think that if David hadn't been there for me or if those hikers hadn't been there--if one person had been missing in the whole rescue, then she wouldn't be here at all," Sandi said. "I never would have gotten off that mountain without any of those people. And so I'm very grateful to all of them because I owe everything I have to them."