East Grads are in the News

East Grads, Jenna & Jayme Dittmar, Return Home to Help with Mother's Recovery
Posted on 01/23/2019
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The injuries tell the story

Dog mushing great Jan Bootz-Dittmar almost died in a crash. Here’s what happened next.

Keith Uhlig
Wausau Daily Herald

TOWN OF TEXAS - The winningest sled-dog racer on the planet was lying in a hospital bed — her thighbone crushed, her knee cap cracked and her collarbone snapped — when her husband handed a cellphone to her.

The voice Jan Bootz-Dittmar heard was familiar. Her younger daughter, Jayme Dittmar, was calling from a remote village in northern Alaska. "Are you dead?" Jayme asked her mother.

Jan, 66, chuckled a little bit, and told her daughter that she still was alive. But the town of Texas woman was also distracted. Health care workers were hovering around her, trying to insert an IV tube into one of her veins. So she said she had to go, and hung up on her daughter.

That left Jayme, 29, anxious and with a lot of questions. "So I’m a wilderness first responder, and I’m trying to put this in perspective: OK, how bad is this? If there are bones out of the skin, and it’s in the femur region, that means it’s life threatening, because it could bleed out."

Jayme immediately called her older sister, Jenna Dittmar, 32, who lives in Cambridge, England, and is a biological anthropology researcher and instructor for the University of Cambridge. It was about 10:30 p.m. in England, and Jayme begins to tell Jenna what happened, and

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then broke down crying. When she composed herself, she told Jenna what she knew about their mother’s condition.

Now Jenna was alarmed. Her sister is not a crier, nor an alarmist. Jenna called a family friend, an emergency room nurse who provided details about the extent of Jan’s injuries. "Should I come home?" Jenna asked her friend. The answer was yes.

That all happened on Nov. 4. By Nov. 5, Jenna and Jayme were both standing in Jan’s room at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, making plans for Jan’s recovery and hounding doctors about their mother’s care.

"I don’t think the doctors really liked us," Jayme said. "Because we wanted to see every X-ray and demanded every detail."

Jan cannot recall exactly what happened in the race on Nov. 4. She knows that she was in an early morning dryland sprint race that was part of the Dirty Dog Dryland Derby held on the Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation north of Antigo.

Dry-land sled dog races generally use three-wheeled rigs instead of sleds. They are becoming more popular among dog mushers, as global warming has diminished the snow packs needed to have full-on sled races. The rigs have become lighter and more sophisticated and the dogs have been getting faster and faster.

Jan specializes in sprint races, both on dry land and with a sled on snow. The dry-land sprints are generally two to three miles and last about seven, eight minutes. Sled races generally are run over 10 to 12 miles, and take about a half an hour.

This particular dry land race did not take place on dry land. It had been snowing throughout the night and morning, and several inches were on the ground when Jan and her competitors lined up to start.

Like she always does in a race, Jan drove hard off the start line, and was "of course" in the lead, she said. She was headed at 20, 25 mph into a left-hand banked curve when the rig started to skid sideways to Jan’s right and ... and that’s all Jan can remember about the crash.

The next thing she remembers is coming to and noticing her right foot was at her left side. She was not in any pain, she said, but she knew the injury was bad.

Jenna has earned a doctorate in biological anthropology, which means she has deep expertise in looking at bones and understanding what happened to them. "Trauma is my speciality," Jenna said.

The injuries tell the story, Jenna said. Jan was thrown into a tree on that curve, and Jan’s right knee and shoulder took the brunt of the impact.

"There’s a roll cage on the rig right a knee level," Jenna said. "Without that roll cage, I think she might have had to have the leg amputated. ... It’s incredibly difficult to break a femur (thigh bone). There had to have been incredible force."