Mayo doctor subs for injured patient in ski race

Erik Scharrer, M.D., was working in the Emergency Department in Cannon Falls when a patient who had been in a skiing accident arrived. After assessing the patient and realizing he wouldn't be able to ski in his final race of the season, Dr. Scharrer thought beyond the usual patient needs and offered to take his place in the race.

When a patient arrived in the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Cannon Falls this past spring wearing a ski race suit, Erik Scharrer, M.D., was intrigued.

"It's not often that you see someone come in wearing racing gear," Dr. Scharrer says.

A lifelong skier himself, Dr. Scharrer immediately struck up a conversation with the patient.

What happened next is an example of two people meeting in the right place at the right time and of a doctor going the extra mile to help a patient.

Surprising solution to racing predicament

The conversation with Dr. Scharrer revealed that the patient had sustained a leg injury while skiing in an adult racing league at Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Instead of going to a closer hospital nearby, the patient decided to come to Mayo Clinic Health System in Cannon Falls, where Dr. Scharrer happened to be working that evening.

Dr. Scharrer was more than familiar with Buck Hill. It's where he fell in love with skiing as a child.

"My parents put me on a bus from Minneapolis that took me to Buck Hill for the day for lessons," he says. "I fell in love with the exhilaration of speed and being able to control precise movements without any other machinery like a bicycle or a motorcycle."

Like the patient, Dr. Scharrer also skied in a adult racing leagues there.

Because of Dr. Scharrer's involvement in the leagues, he knew the final week of racing was approaching. The patient would not be able to participate due to his injury, so his team would be one person short.

"I told him that it was a bummer he wouldn't be able to ski in the last race," Dr. Scharrer says.

Having experienced skiing injuries himself through the years, Dr. Scharrer could relate to and how the patient was feeling. Then, thinking of the patient's needs beyond the emergency room, he offered to serve as a substitute on his ski team.

"The whole racing scene is so social that it's always fun to have a new person show up and hang out together while doing something you love, so I wasn't nervous about not knowing any of his teammates," Dr. Scharrer says.

The patient was elated to let his doctor/new acquaintance take his place in the last race.

"He thought it was a great idea," Dr. Scharrer says. "We had met in such an unfortunate circumstance, but we found a way to make the best of it."

Hitting the slopes with a team of unfamiliar faces

A week later, Dr. Scharrer arrived at Buck Hill to ski with a team of strangers.

"It was the most beautiful sunny day, and I met some great people I'm sure I will run into again, somewhere on a slope or riding up a chair lift," Dr. Scharrer says.

Ultimately, the race director decided Dr. Scharrer's score couldn't count toward the team's final score, but the team was grateful to have him join them, nonetheless.

They placed seventh out of 10 teams.

Dr. Scharrer hoped the patient would be able to come to see the race, but unfortunately, due to his injury and being on crutches, he did not make it.

The two have kept in touch, however, and Dr. Scharrer says that he's now in the final stages of his recovery and is eager to reunite with his teammates on the slopes next season.