Animal doc takes time to heal

LA CRESCENTA — Veterinarian Steve Sallen, founder of the Rosemont Pet Hospital, has spent nearly three decades caring for animals in the Crescenta-Cañada community. But after a recent dirt-bike accident, it was his turn to be cared for.

On July 11, Sallen and his son set out from the family’s vacation house in Gunnison, Colo., on Honda dirt bikes.

Sallen’s bike was a recent purchase, and he had yet to adjust the frame to fit his height and build. He struggled to keep his balance at sharp turns, but successfully traversed a steep trail frequented by dirt bikers.

Back on a flat dirt road, Sallen was riding smoothly at about 35 mph when he was thrown from his bike as he rounded a bend.

“The last thing I can remember, I am looking over the handlebars at this flat dirt road, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in a ditch in extreme pain with breathing difficulty,” Sallen said. “I tried to stand up and it hurt way too much, so I just laid down in the ditch. I never saw my bike again.”

His son, Dustin, riding some distance behind, came upon his father.

“I was just about to catch up with him,” said Dustin, who was 13 at the time. “He had gotten around the corner before [me] so I didn’t really see what happened. The bike was in the middle of the dirt road, and he was on the side in the ditch.”

With his father unable to move, Dustin decided to ride for help.

“I picked the bike up, turned the gas off and put it in the middle of the road so if somebody came by they would see the bike and see him in the ditch,” Dustin said.

He gave his father his Camelbak water pouch, and then headed toward the nearest neighborhood some 15 miles away. Worried about leaving his father alone, Dustin said he twice considered heading back.

But when he tried to turn his bike around, it stalled. Taking that as a sign, he rode on until he was able to locate a house and call for help.

Steve Sallen’s injuries were life-threatening — eight broken ribs, a broken clavicle, a broken shoulder blade and a collapsed lung. Rescuers airlifted him to a hospital in Grand Junction where he spent 14 days in an intensive care unit.

His recovery at their Ojai home, which took the rest of the summer and well into fall, was slow and painstaking, said his wife, Donna.

He spent much of his time in bed and was on oxygen for more than three months.

At Rosemont Animal Hospital, Steve Sallen’s colleagues canceled vacations and picked up extra hours to keep the business running.

Veterinarian Kymberly Mitchell, who has worked at the clinic since 1993, said they hired a relief doctor to help keep things running, but business slowed somewhat without Steve Sallen.

As he healed, he’d visit the clinic.

“He could take the focus off of himself and put it back on his patients and clients,” Donna Sallen said. “That is the element he is most comfortable in, and that is how he lives his life, helping people and helping pets.”

Mitchell described Steve Sallen as a daredevil and said she wasn’t surprised that he injured himself doing something like riding a dirt bike.

But she was surprised at what a strong recovery he made given the severity of his injuries.

“If you would have seen him even a month ago, he was so weak,” Mitchell said. “He would be standing trying to talk to me, and he would have to lean against the wall.”

On Oct. 30, Steve Sallen returned to his full schedule at the clinic.

“For him, going back to work is just him being back, period,” his wife said. “It is who he is, and it is what he does, and it is what he loves. I have never met anyone with more passion for what they do. It is just amazing.”

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