Friday, April 3, 2009

Wells’ Alex Tomaszewski Competes
in National Ski Competition

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
Wells resident Alex Tomaszewski, 15, faced a big challenge this week. He represented Maine at the International Paralympic Committee’s Alpine Skiing National Championships in Winter Park, Colo. But the current challenge pales in comparison to the significant challenges Alex already has overcome. Born in Russia, Alex was missing the lower part of his right leg and had only one-and-a-half fingers on his left hand. He was placed in an orphanage and lived there for the first months of his life.
Despite that beginning, he has become an alpine skier of some stature in the United States.
“Colorado is a big step for him,” said John Freeman, Alex’s coach for the past four years. “I think he’ll do fairly well. He’s one of the top juniors in the country right now. I have worked with other national level athletes before and he’s got what it takes.”
John and Chris Tomaszewski of Wells adopted Alex when he was 15 months old and brought him to the United States. The Tomaszewski’s live with Alex and his 11 brothers and sisters. Alex started skiing when he was eight.
“A man down the road got us started with Maine Handicapped Skiing,” Alex said. “I spent two years as a trainer and then joined the race team. I’ve been doing that for four or five years.”
The Maine team competes in a race circuit known as the Diana Golden series, named for a Paralympian skier from New England. It consists of races staged across New England and New York. Since Alex has won the series already, he now races in it but does not compete.
“The races in New England are pretty entry level,” said Diane Barras, the head coach of the Maine team. “Alex has developed well beyond that. He’s definitely ready for the national adaptive championships. He’ll be competing against the best athletes in the country, including the National Adaptive Team.”
In Colorado, Alex said he’ll compete in five categories of races, the slalom, grand slalom, super G, downhill, and combined (grand slalom and slalom).
“As I train, I think I’ll be better at the super G,” he said. “It’s a lower step from the fastest speed event, which is the downhill. But the super G is pretty fast.”
Barras will accompany Alex to the race. “He’s excellent on all fronts,” she said. “He knows he’s good but he doesn’t flaunt it. He’s confident and really supportive of his teammates. He’s really come into his own this year.”
In addition to honing his physical skiing skills, Alex also had a challenge finding the right equipment. When he began skiing, his prosthetic leg and foot was fit into a regular ski boot. Because that prosthetic leg itself was rigid, Alex couldn’t have the slight forward inclination for his right leg that a ski boot normally provides. The leg also didn’t fit well into a regular boot. It made it hard to keep the right ski in synch with the left one.
That changed, however, when Alex was able to obtain special ski prostheses that attaches to his leg and fits directly into the binding. The device is shaped at the proper angle thus allowing better control of the ski.
“It works just like a ski boot,” Alex said.
Alex doesn’t limit himself to the Golden series of races. Recently, he skied in an able bodied race against college age skiers and other teens. “I beat 10 college kids (on Mar. 20) at Attitash,” he said. “It was my first ever super G. I think I did pretty well.”
Alex said he skis “60 or so” times a year. “I ski every Saturday with MHS and then on school vacation weeks I go up to my coach’s house at Sugarloaf,” he said.
Beyond Colorado, Alex has his sights set on the 2014 Paralympics, which will be staged, ironically, in Russia. “Hopefully, I can compete in that,” he said. “If I make the U.S. Adaptive team, I have a good chance of going. If I’m on the team, they will pay for me to go.”
Money is something of an issue, given the need for equipment, competitor licenses, and travel expenses. For now, Alex claims two sponsors: Freedom Innovations (they provided the prosthetic boot) and Ski Maine (they provided a free pass usable at any mountain in Maine).
Ultimately, Alex hopes to be a professional skier. Freeman said that’s entirely possible.
“He’s got all the makings to have it happen,” Freeman said. “If he continues to work hard, he’s on track to go as far as he wants.”
Photo caption: Wells teen Alex Tomaszewski in action. Alex competed in a national ski competition in Colorado Mar. 28 through Apr. 2. (Courtesy photo)

York Hospital Gains a New Helipad

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
A new helipad is up and operational at York Hospital.
The $150,000 recently completed project at the end of Williams Avenue adjacent to the hospital parking area provides a safer and more convenient operations area when helicopter evacuation is necessary for a hospital patient.
“Because minutes can make the difference in their recovery, having a dedicated helipad for emergency transport is essential” to some patients, Jud Knox, hospital president said after a Maine LifeFlight Helicopter landed on the pad late last week.
The hospital has been using LifeFlight for patient transfer for some time. There are helicopters based in Lewiston and Bangor that can be in York between 20 and 30 minutes after being called. The exact number of flights from York isn’t known but the number has increased since the inception of the TeleStroke program in cooperation with Massachusetts General Hospital.
York Hospital utilizes helicopter air medical transport services to transfer seriously ill or injured patients from the hospital when necessary. The hospital provides advanced care for most situations but the need for air transports proves vital.
As an example, Knox said: “When a patient arrives at York Hospital presenting symptoms of stroke it is imperative that we act quickly and decisively. Our neurologists and ER physicians often confer with stroke specialists from Massachusetts General Hospital through our TeleStroke program. If a patient needs highly specialized stroke treatment that is not available at York Hospital, we immediately transfer the patient.”
Patients are also transferred for specialized care in other situations as well. Some are taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Last week’s landing of the Italian - built Agusta 109 simulated the landing to pick up a patient. Once it was on the ground and shut down, there was an orientation and demonstrations for York Hospital staff.
Barbara Green, an emergency room nurse, said it is important that ER staff “does everything we can for the patient before they get here” and LifeFlight is very helpful in providing guidance in that area.
Two-thirds of the cost of the new helipad was paid for by a grant from LifeFlight Foundation. “We need to give them credit,” Knox said. “We thank the LifeFlight Foundation for their support.”
The old helipad was located in the hospital’s parking lot and required moving 30 to 50 cars when a flight was needed. There are 17 spaces at the new location, which will make removal much faster if those spaces are in use, a hospital spokesperson said.
York Hospital is a not-for-profit 79-bed hospital located on the southern coast of Maine. It is a modern facility with medical/surgical units, an emergency care center, extensive inpatient and outpatient services and many year-round community programs.
York Hospital recently kicked off the For Every Patient Campaign to renovate and expand the Surgical Center, renovate and privatize patient rooms, and build a dedicated helipad for emergency patient transport.
The LifeFlight Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that provides fundraising and public relations support to LifeFlight of Maine.
The Foundation is supported by the generosity of the many friends of LifeFlight, raising funds for statewide aviation improvements, aircraft, helipads, and the many training outreach programs offered by LifeFlight staff include trauma and critical care, brain injury, ground safety, cardiac care and injury prevention programs at elementary schools.
For more information about the services offered by York Hospital, please visit their website at or call the Friendraising Office at (207) 351-2385.
Photo caption: The new helipad, a $150,000 project at York Hospital, is now up and running. (Weekly Sentinel photo)