The Mammoth Community Blood Drive will take place May 12-14 at the Mammoth Lakes Fire Station on Main Street. If you think giving a pint of blood doesn’t make a difference, well, consider the following story and judge for yourself.
Dennis Domaille knew he was in trouble.
The then 57-year old owner of the Whoa Nellie Deli and Mobil Mart in Lee Vining had just been scorched in a propane tank explosion. The date was July 9, 2008.
“I don’t remember a whole lot of it,” Domaille said this week. “I do remember the explosion. It just blew up and I turned around and ran. The survival instinct of putting distance between you and danger. I remember rolling in the grass … I remember running up by the deli. There were hundreds of people sitting around eating lunch. I ran right through the middle of them to get to the hose.”
“I didn’t hear the explosion,” said his daughter Denise, who manages the Mobil Mart. “But I heard someone say ‘call 911.’ I caught up with Dad by the hose and stood there with the hose on him.”
Though long swatches of skin literally hung off his arm, Dennis was calm the whole time. So calm that Denise didn’t realize the severity of the injury at first. “Dad’s always been invincible to me,” she said. “When I first called Mom, I told her we’d meet her at Mammoth [Hospital].”
Fortunately, a vacationing doctor was at the deli. She suggested Dennis be packed in ice. So they stripped off his clothes. He was lying on a picnic table, stark naked, shivering, as colleagues and strangers alike covered him in ice.
Which made him forget all about the pain. He was freezing his tail off.
“And that was only the beginning of my problems,” said Dennis.
The ambulance arrived and they loaded Dennis in the back. His daughter Denise got in with him. Dennis heard the paramedic call in a 57-year old male with 3rd degree burns covering 80% of his body.
You see, ironically, Dennis knew something about burns. “Craig Kelford was a Mono County paramedic and he lived here about twenty years ago. I recall having a conversation with him at one time about burn victims. The first thing I remember him saying was that most burn victims, in the immediate aftermath, underestimate what damage has been done. But the second thing I remember … he talked about the odds of survival. He said that a person’s chances of survival decreased significantly if they had burns on more than 50% of their body.”
The paramedic had said 80%. Dennis figured he wasn’t going to make it. So he said goodbye to his daughter.
“From both sides, we were in denial. I told her I loved her and to keep doing a good job.”
The paramedics started Dennis on morphine and put a blanket over him. Within minutes, he passed out.
He wouldn’t regain consciousness for three-and-a-half months.
Dennis was ultimately brought to the burn center at U.C. Davis Medical Center, where a team of doctors literally peeled off layers from places where he had healthy skin (like peeling a potato) and grafted it onto the places where he had no skin at all.
Fortunately for Domaille, the initial paramedic’s assessment hadn’t been quite accurate. He had suffered 3rd degree burns over 45% of his body, and 2nd degree burns over 20% of his body.
He was also fortunate in that his eyes, lungs and groin area were not harmed.
“While I was filling the tank (on a rental RV driven by a nice family from Germany), my face was the furthest thing away from the valve, and that couple of inches made all the difference.”
While Dennis lay in a coma, doctors could determine his level of pain by monitoring his blood pressure, and would regulate the pain (and blood pressure) via morphine.
Pain was one thing. Platelets were another matter. Domaille developed Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), a complication which nearly killed him. According to the National Institute of Health, TTP “is a rare blood condition. It causes blood clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body. These blood clots can cause serious problems if they block blood vessels and limit blood flow to the brain, kidneys, or heart.
Blood clots form when blood cells called platelets (PLATE-lets) clump together. Platelets are made in your bone marrow along with other kinds of blood cells. They stick together to seal small cuts or breaks and stop bleeding.
In TTP, when blood clots form, there are fewer platelets in the blood. This can cause bleeding into the skin (purpura), prolonged bleeding from cuts, and internal bleeding. It also causes small blood clots to form suddenly throughout the body, including in the brain and kidneys.”
The common treatment for TTP? Blood exchange. And lots of it. During his treatment, Domaille went through 500 pints of blood. Which is why we’ll talk about the upcoming Mammoth blood drive and Dennis’s keen interest in incentivizing you to give blood a little later in the story.
During plasma exchange, an IV needle or tube is placed in the arm to remove blood. The blood then goes through a cell separator, which removes plasma from the blood. The nonplasma part of the blood is saved, and donated plasma is added to it.
The blood is then put back into the body through an IV line into one of the blood vessels.
Despite the blood transfusions, Dennis’s condition wasn’t improving. His blood platelet count got so low that they eventually brought in the family and the priest. It looked dim.
As a last ditch effort, doctors gave Domaille a bunch of drugs normally used in chemotherapy treatment. “I don’t know why they worked, but within days, I was better. They’re [doctors] still not sure about what they stumbled upon, but a lot of them want my blood these days [for further tests].”
When Dennis regained consciousness, he found that he was literally strapped to the bed with tubes stuck into him all over the place. “I counted nine tubes at one point,” he said.
Fortunately for Dennis, he’s not terribly claustrophobic. But he did say the two worst things about the experience was the constant thirst (brought on because he had a tube propped down his throat so he couldn’t wet his mouth) and the nightmares and hallucinations (likely exacerbated by the pain medication).
He has nothing but kind words for the medical staff, but says this about his time in the hospital. “By the time you leave, your modesty and vanity are gone, especially when you have nurses you don’t know walking in on you 24/7, changing diapers, etc.”
He does say that as time goes on, it’s getting easier to find some things about the experience to laugh about. In particular, he talked about his first return visit to U.C. Davis for a follow-up consultation after he’d been discharged.
“I said to the doctor, ‘I finally get to meet the man who saved my life.’ The guy replies by saying, ‘Oh, did I do the work?’ and then checks the medical file to see if he was one of the doctors who did my skin grafts.”
In another instance, while Bill Greene and Gordon Alper were visiting, doctors decided they wanted to remove a couple of tubes. The room where they were going to do the procedure was located next to the hospital morgue, so hospital staff literally parked Dennis and his wheelchair in the morgue until the room became available.
Then, almost out of the Twilight Zone, a Dr. Deutsch (very German) and Dr. Dong (very Japanese) removed the tubes and returned him to the morgue to wait because it was lunch break and no one was available to push Dennis back to his room.
So he’s stuck waiting in the morgue for an hour (which is quite cold) while his guests are waiting upstairs.
Domaille was released from the hospital in October. The incident occurred July 9. In the past ten months, Domaille has accrued $2 million in medical bills for the insurance companies to fight about. The cause of the explosion was apparently a loose hose. He’s resumed his service on the Mammoth Community Water District Board and is looking forward to another summer at the Mobil Mart.
He is thankful to the staff at Mammoth Hospital’s physical therapy clinic for all their help over the past several months, in particular Ellen Obenberger.
Sheet: Would you ever fill a propane tank again?
Domaille: Yes, but we’ll no longer fill them at the store.
Sheet: Do you wonder if the accident has affected your life expectancy?
Domaille: I thought about it a lot at the beginning, but less so now. It may not have much, if any, impact. Every day I’m getting better. There are people out there who have chronic illnesses who are getting worse.
Sheet: Are you an optimistic person?
Domaille: Perennially optimistic, yes, though this did test me.
Domaille is giving away a free fish taco dinner at the Whoa Nellie Deli for anyone who gives blood. He gave away 300 such dinners at the recent Bishop blood drive and hopes to give away at least 300 more in Mammoth.Share Email This Post