Robert Key, M.D., and his brother Tim were fishing on Caribou Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness shortly after sunrise on Sept. 21, when they spotted a member of their fishing party frantically waving them back to shore. Once ashore, they were introduced to Bette Braem, 56, who was no doubt happy to make the acquaintance of the family medicine physician from Mayo Clinic Health System in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Braem tells the LaCrosse Tribune she heard "a snap" in her left leg while unloading a pack from her canoe the day before. Suspecting "something had fractured," her husband, Stuart, wrapped her leg in a bandage. Then the couple broke camp and paddled 3 1/2 miles across Caribou Lake in search of help. Not immediately finding help, Stuart set up a new camp while Bette kept her injured leg in the cool lake water to reduce the swelling.
The next morning, Bette says she awoke to find herself unable to put any weight on her leg. "We thought, 'What are we going to do? We've only seen five or six people,'" she tells the newspaper. And their car was still "several miles — and at least three lakes and portages" away. So once again, they broke camp and set out in search of help. This time they found it, a half-mile away, at the campsite of Dr. Key, his brother, and two friends.
Dr. Key examined Bette and determined that while her "ligaments were OK," the upper tibia of her leg was injured. He helped change her bandage. Then he and his fellow paddlers told the Braems they knew "a shortcut" through the woods that would get them back to their car faster. Not only that, but they also helped them get there, the Tribune reports, with Dr. Key and his brother taking turns carrying Bette "about 1 1/2 miles through the woods to a parking lot." It was a wilderness rescue mission that Bette says "took several hours" but left her feeling very fortunate. "I'm not really a believer in miracles — but we were indeed lucky," she tells the Tribune.
As for Dr. Key, he tells the Tribune it was all just a matter of doing what came natural to him. "My brother said it best: 'It's doing the right thing when you're in the right place at the right time,'" he tells the newspaper.
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