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Doctors on (video) call: Rural medics get long-distance help in treating man gored by bison

Arielle Zionts, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

GANN VALLEY, S.D. — Rural medics who rescued rancher Jim Lutter after he was gored by a bison didn’t have much experience handling such severe wounds.

But the medics did have a doctor looking over their shoulders inside the ambulance as they rushed Lutter to a hospital.

The emergency medicine physician sat 140 miles away in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, office building. She participated in the treatment via a video system recently installed in the ambulance.

“I firmly believe that Jim had the best care anyone has ever received in the back of a basic life support ambulance,” said Ed Konechne, a volunteer emergency medical technician with the Kimball Ambulance District.

The ambulance service received its video system through an initiative from the South Dakota Department of Health. The project, Telemedicine in Motion, helps medics across the state, especially in rural areas.

Telehealth became commonplace in clinics and patients’ homes during the covid-19 pandemic emergency, and the technology is starting to spread to ambulances. Similar programs recently launched in regions of Texas and Minnesota, but South Dakota officials say their partnership with Avel eCare — a Sioux Falls-based telehealth company — appears to be the nation’s only statewide effort.


Lutter, 67, and his wife, Cindy, are among the 12 residents of Gann Valley, a town just east of the Missouri River in central South Dakota. They operate a hunting lodge and ranch, where they raise more than 1,000 bison.

Last December, Lutter went to check on a sick bison calf. The animal was in the same pen as Bill, a 3-year-old bull that was like a family pet.

“We raised him from a tiny little calf, and I always told everybody he thinks I’m his mother. He just followed me everywhere,” Lutter recalled. Lutter climbed into the pen and saw Bill calmly walk toward him.

“What does Chuck Norris say? ‘Always expect the unexpected.’ Well, I didn’t do that. I didn’t expect the unexpected,” he said.


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©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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