Life saving effort comes full circle following near-fatal jet ski accident on Lake Nokomis Aug. 2
By Jed Buelow & Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor, Sports, Nature Editor
Andrew Sparks, 26, is a living example of a miracle. The doctor said he almost died 10 times – and that was even after surviving a horrific jet-ski accident on Lake Nokomis Aug. 2 that required an entire team of family members and first responders to spring into action to save his life.
Andrew was in Tomahawk on long weekend vacation from Illinois to celebrate a family reunion at his parent’s place on Lake Nokomis. The family was taking the pontoon to a favorite place to swim on the lake as Andrew and a cousin followed behind on jet-skis.
Andrew’s mother, Mary, was among the 10 family members aboard the pontoon. She didn’t see the accident when the two jet-skis accidentally collided, but she recalls hearing the crash and the pandemonium that followed as her son lay face down and unresponsive in the water.
“I immediately called 911. My nephew’s husband was a lifeguard and he jumped in right away and others joined him to bring him back to the boat,” Mary said of the frantic seconds that followed the horrific crash. “We didn’t know where we were on the lake, so we had to get him on the boat and take him to them (rescuers) at the landing.”
From the very moment the 911 call was made, a small army of first responders jumped into action. An ambulance and rescue boat were deployed, a helicopter was put in the air, even Tomahawk Police officer Tom Tollifson and Ascension paramedic Shawn Black, who happened to be fishing and relaxing on Lake Nokomis that day, dropped plans to see if they could assist in the rescue effort.
The Spark’s family was reluctant to remove Andrew from the water once they had him facing up. Keith Sparks, Andrew’s father was afraid the additional movement could cause even more damage, but paramedic Steve Taskay later told the family that action likely saved Andrew’s life.
“We never know what could have happened, as you can drown in two tablespoons of water. We always tell people not to move someone after a trauma, but in this case, Andrew needed to get out of the water and swiftly to dry land and I am grateful they moved him, it likely saved his life.”
Taskay and EMT Brian Teeters, both longtime employees of Lincoln County EMS based out of Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital, were meeting with paramedic Robert Caylor going over radio options for a new ambulance when the call was paged. With the serious nature of the call Caylor joined Taskay and Teeters as they headed to the scene. Taskay also requested the town of Nokomis First Responders to come to the scene to assist, and Caylor dispatched the Tomahawk Fire Department due to the possibility of a water rescue.
Andrew suffered a head injury and damaged a number of internal organs in the crash. Some of the life-threatening injuries he sustained included a traumatic brain injury, had to have his spleen removed, suffered a damaged pancreas, broke his sternum as well as suffered severe damage to a number of internal organs that made every minute critical in the effort to save his life.
With Andrew out of the water and approaching shore Tomahawk Firefighters John Cole, Ronnie Moren, and Steve Loka along with Lincoln County deputy Rob Retallick went to work setting up a landing zone off County Rd Y as the Sprit 2 Helicopter was inbound to the scene thanks to the quick action of the Sheriff’s Office dispatch center.
When flight paramedic Holly Moshinski along with flight nurse Barb Spinzig arrived at the landing zone aboard Spirit 2, Tomahawk’s ambulance was already waiting and less than 10 minutes had elapsed from when Andrew had arrived on the shore to the helicopter meeting the ground crews.
From there, Andrew was flown to the Trauma Center at Aspirus in Wausau where he underwent a surgery that lasted around four to six hours.
Mary said after the helicopter took off they raced back to their house so they could be with him when he arrived at the hospital. Mary recalled having to move all the vehicles of visiting family members so she could get her vehicle out.
“I didn’t even know where they were taking him. I just got my vehicle out and started heading south,” she said in noting she later received a call they were flying him to Wausau. “My husband was also able to get there just in time before they took him in for surgery. At that time he was already receiving blood for the amount he had already lost.”
If it wasn’t a miracle Andrew made it to the hospital alive, it certainly was one when learning the number of internal injuries he had suffered. Andrew almost died 10 times from respiratory issues and heart beat issues, was almost killed by a blood clot and even overcame pneumonia during a long recovery. From Aug. 2 through Aug. 26, he remained in the ICU where he was cared for by Aspirus staff.
After an extensive stay in the intensive care unit, Andrew was moved to rehab unit where he spent an additional 10 days. The Spark’s family told responders on Thursday that Andrew was far from out of the woods after he arrived at Aspirus, and they also credited the surgeons and medical staff for saving his life.
It was over a month after the accident before Andrew could return to his parent’s home and he remained in the Northwoods for the remainder of the summer getting physical therapy at Head-to-Toe as well as speech therapy.
“Life can change in a split second – it certainly is true,” Mary said of the accident that not only changed her son’s life forever but also changed the lives of all those involved. “Andrew realizes he is here for a reason. He’s a miracle to us all.”
Andrew and his family reached out to the rescuers and asked to meet them before he heads back to Chicago with plans to reunite with friends and return to work.
The many rescuers involved that day were grateful to meet with Andrew and his family this past Thursday at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital. “It is very seldom where we get to follow up with families after an event like this” said paramedic Robert Caylor. Taskay added one of the main reasons is most cases as severe as Andrew’s do not have anywhere near the positive outcome that this case did.
Nokomis fire chief Don Richert told Andrew that while we all look forward to seeing him again next summer, the next time the chief will be taking him fishing instead.
“The first responders and family were a big part in saving his life,” Mary concluded. “If they hadn’t acted as quickly as they did this might have been a much different story. I’m so proud to have those type of people in our area. We are so blessed to have them as part of our community.”
The Sparks family is already thinking about holding a celebration of life for Andrew next Aug. 2 on Lake Nokomis. After all miracles don’t happen everyday and Andrew Spark is a living example of one.