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Salem man makes it his life’s goal to inform others of potentially deadly sickness

SALEM – One man is making it his mission to educate people about the quick-acting sickness that is believed to have killed his son.  He’s asking everyone to know the signs of altitude sickness.

Douglas Julian remembers vividly the time the chief of Salem Police telling him the tragic news.  He says, “The chief came up, put both his hands on my shoulders and, just quite frankly, told me my son had passed away.”

(Photo Credit: Douglas Julian)

In disbelief, he asked three times if it was a joke.  He later had to tell his wife that their son, Doug, died while hiking with his scout group in the High Uinta Mountains.  Julian says his wife broke down, which has become something that has been happening, frequently.  “It’s a hole that I’ll never fill.  How can you replace a child you love?  You can’t,” Julian says.

His son had been in high elevation before and had even felt the effects of altitude sickness in the past, but, thought nothing of it.  People in the troop tried CPR on Doug, and revived him, twice.  However, Julian says young Doug kept coughing up the fluid that had filled his lungs.

Since, the tragedy, he and his wife have relied on the kindness of neighbors, and have been going through counseling.  He adds, “I don’t know how to cope with it without help.  Neither does she.”

Now, he’s turning his attention to informing others of how serious altitude sickness can be.  “I know there is a profound ignorance in relation to it.  Most people have experienced it and don’t really think it’s a big deal,” Julian says.

Since his son’s death, Julian has spoken with outdoor retail stores to have them post more information on their websites.  He’s spoke with the Boy Scouts of America, as they compile data to write articles about it, adding “We may even do a video training for future scout leaders.”  He’s reached out to Senator Orrin Hatch, trying to contact officials with the Bureau of Land Management, so they can have signs about altitude sickness at trailheads.

If there is one silver lining to the dark cloud, it’s that more people are asking about altitude sickness after young Julian’s passing.  University of Utah Wilderness Medicine Director Richard Ingebretsen says, “We’ve had a number of people call and a number of people inquire about courses or how they can learn more.”

Ingebretsen says it’s crucial people know the signs.  A frothy sputum could be assign of your lungs filling with water, and there’s an extremely dangerous sign that could show your brain is swelling.  “If you go up and then you start having trouble walking and you become clumsy, that means you’re about ready to die,” he says.

Julian says one thing that could have really helped is a satellite phone.  He says precious time was lost while one member of his son’s troop traveled for hours to get a cell phone signal to call 911.