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Ketchum doctor dies in Idaho avalanche

Sawtooth Avalanche Center
Sawtooth Avalanche Center
The Sawtooth Avalanche Center described the avalanche on Donaldson Peak on May 10.

A Ketchum doctor, known as an avid adventurer, died last week in an avalanche in Idaho’s backcountry.

Dr. Terrence “Terry” O’Connor, 48, was a physician in the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum.

He coordinated the local medical response during the COVID-19 pandemic, provided healthcare overseas in Nepal and India, helped start a medical school program focused on climate change and summited Mount Everest.

“His loss will be missed not only in the valley itself but throughout the entire state and region,” wrote the Idaho EMS Physician Commission in a Facebook post.

On Friday, May 10, O’Connor and another experienced skier were downclimbing to their descent point on Donaldson Peak in the Lost River Range, when he was caught in a small wind slab avalanche, which carried him downhill and triggered a larger avalanche, according to a preliminary report by the Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

His skiing partner called for help via a satellite device, found O’Connor with her transceiver and probe and was able to dig him out of five feet of snow and perform CPR. Search and rescue teams responded and evacuated O’Connor, but he did not survive.

Terry O'Connor
Terry O'Connor

In addition to O’Connor’s role in the ER, he was also previously the Blaine County and Sawtooth Regional EMS Director, serving as a liaison between first responders, local government officials, and the medical and public health communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point in March of 2020, the Sun Valley area had the highest-in-the-nation rate of COVID-19 infections per-capita.

O’Connor was also a director for the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Diploma in Climate Medicine, preparing doctors for the health impacts caused by extreme heat and wildfires.

At other times, he was a ski patroller, a National Park Service Climbing Ranger and an ultramarathoner.

In a 2017 Ted Talk, O’Connor emphasized the importance of adventure in fostering altruism.

“Yes, Everest was significant,” he said, “but it was really about me feeling insignificant, but connected to something greater.”

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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