By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /


Fictional secret agent Angus MacGyver, featured
on an American TV series that ran from 1985-1992, had unparalleled ingenuity. MacGyver used everyday objects to create complex
solutions to overcome obstacles and prevail in life-or-death situations, saving his life
(and sometimes the world) with his quick engineering hacks. MacGyver’s ability to perform extraordinary
feats with ordinary objects may seem far-fetched. However, ingenious improvised solutions to
life-threatening problems are not merely the province of TV. Below are 10 real-life examples of people
who had a “MacGyver moment,” thinking quickly and devising surprising solutions
to save lives. Disappointingly, with fewer rubber bands and
paper clips than we’d hoped. 10. Creating a Makeshift Radiator James Glanton and Christina McIntee faced
a nightmare scenario when, while driving through the rural back roads of northern Nevada on
a wintry December day in 2013 on the way to play in the snow up in the mountains, their
Jeep swerved off an embankment and overturned. The couple was traveling with their two children,
ages three and four, and a niece and nephew, ages 10 and three. As temperatures in the area plunged to 21
degrees below zero, the family’s prospects appeared bleak. The couple had winter coats for the family,
but no cell service and no prospect of being able to reach help on foot. What Glanton and McIntee did have, however,
was ingenuity. Glanton used the Jeep’s spare tire as a
container for a fire he built using brush and wood found near the Jeep. The couple heated rocks in the fire and ferried
them to the overturned vehicle, using the residual heat to keep the family warm as they
waited for rescue (they knew relatives would have reported them missing and could hear
helicopters overhead so they believed a search was underway). When the family was found after two days in
the wilderness, none of them had suffered from frostbite or sustained any permanent
injury from the day trip gone awry. 9. Signaling for Help While Pinned after a Car
Accident When Kristin Hopkins’ Chevy Mailbu skidded
off US Highway 285 in Colorado and down a steep, wooded mountain pass, it was only the
beginning of her five day fight for survival. Pinned in her overturned car, which was wedged
between trees, Hopkins lacked food, water, and the ability to reach a phone to call for
help. Somehow, even in these desperate straits,
Hopkins maintained a hopeful outlook. When interviewed about her ordeal, Hopkins,
a single mother of four, said she concentrated on thoughts of her children. “I never had the death thought in my head,”
she said. “It was more or less like all right, well,
when will someone find me?” Hopkins used the only items she could reach,
a striped umbrella and a Sharpie marker, to signal for help. She detailed her situation on the white sections
of the umbrella and poked it through one of the car’s broken windows, hoping to attract
attention. A passing motorist spotted the vehicle and
called authorities, who were surprised to find Hopkins severely dehydrated and injured
(her feet ultimately had to be amputated), but alive, having used the only tools at her
disposal to try to expedite her rescue. 8. Using an MP3 Player to Navigate and a Snowboard
to Survive Former hockey Olympian Eric LeMarque didn’t
initially realize his predicament when he snowboarded off-course, accidentally leaving
the relative safety of the back side of California’s Mammoth Mountain for the backcountry of the
Sierra Nevada. LeMarque had only meager provisions—some
gum, an MP3 player, his condo keys, and a cellphone with a dead battery—and he hadn’t
told anyone where he was going. However, with some ingenuity, LeMarque managed
to survive a week in the frigid wilderness before rescuers located him. He used his snowboard to remove tree bark,
which he ate and used for shelter. He used his MP3 player as a makeshift compass,
using the strength of the signal from a local radio station to orient himself and to trek
back up the mountain to increase his odds of being found. While LeMarque lost both feet to frostbite,
his improvised survival strategies kept him alive in the wilderness five days longer than
anyone had previously survived in the conditions he faced. 7. Saving a Life with Soda Sugary drinks have taken the blame for shortening
lives by contributing to obesity. However, for one car crash victim, a bottle
of Coca-Cola in the hands of an astute rescuer proved to be a lifesaver. After hitting black ice on New Hampshire’s
Route 140, Susan Robbins’ Camry hit a tree stump, overturned and smashed into a truck,
leaving her unconscious in her badly damaged car. Mark Hickey, a NH National Guard training
officer happened by the wreck shortly after it occurred. Another motorist had already stopped and was
on the phone with 911 dispatchers, so Hickey looked around to see how else he could help. It was then that he noticed a fire in the
car’s engine compartment. Hickey initially tried to staunch the flames
with hunting clothes he had in his truck, but when he couldn’t reach the fire, he
created a novel fire extinguisher from another item in his vehicle—a 2-liter bottle of
Coke. Hickey shook the bottle and used its contents
to put out the flames. He held Robbins’ hand until rescuers arrived. When Robbins’ husband passed the crash scene
on the way to the hospital, where his wife was being treated for her (relatively minor)
injuries, he was surprised to notice a Coke bottle in her car, as Susan drinks only Pepsi. However, when the story of Hickey’s heroic
actions came to light, a grateful Susan Robbins offered to buy her rescuer a Coke. Amazingly, this is not the first time Coke-as-fire-extinguisher
has saved a life; a British teenager also saved his father after his body went up in
flames after a garden fire. 6. Reviving a Sick Passenger with a Hair Tie
and Booze Many passengers have urgently demanded a drink
on a cross-country flight. However, when Dr. Patricia Quinlan asked for
whiskey on her November, 2015 flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco, she had an
exceptionally good reason. After noticing a man across the aisle fall
out of his seat, Dr. Quinlan assessed him, determining his blood pressure was dangerously
low and his heartbeat was irregular. Using the plane’s automated defibrillator
to determine the sick passenger did not have a heart blockage, Dr. Quinlan then sought
to stabilize the man, with help from an EMT and a nurse amongst her fellow passengers. As the three medical professionals maneuvered
in the narrow aisle, other passengers used smartphones to provide light as the team treated
the unconscious man, who was likely suffering from dehydration. While a medical kit was onboard, no alcohol
could be found to disinfect the IV needle, so Dr. Quinlan requested a flight attendant
grab some whiskey from the bar cart to do so. Further improvising, Dr. Quinlan used her
hair elastic as a tourniquet for the IV and, when the IV sprung a leak, patched it with
tape another passenger had in her purse. By the time the plane landed, the sick man
was conscious and able to walk off the flight. Dr. Quinlan emerged from the flight with a
new nickname from the appreciative crew: “Doctor Angel.” 5. Chopping Down Power Poles as an Emergency
Beacon In late May of 2010, temperatures in the Wollaston
Lake region were unusually cold, even for northern Saskatchewan. In these icy conditions, an unidentified outdoorsman
became stranded after going out in a boat on a river and being unable to find an ice-free
path out of Wollaston Lake, which the river feeds. Stuck in the bush, surrounded by bears on
one side and an icy lake on the other, with no way to communicate his predicament or ask
for help, the stricken woodsman waited for rescue. After almost a week alone in the wilderness,
he used the only tool at his disposal, an axe, to try to send a signal. The desperate man chopped down four power
poles, knocking out power to more than 1,000 residents of surrounding communities, and
forcing SaskPower, the regional utility, to send a crew to investigate the cause of the
outage. When the SaskPower crew arrived, they discovered
the stranded man huddled under his boat for shelter, “in a very distressed state.” Though town residents were displeased to spend
more than 30 hours without power in temperatures that dipped below freezing, they could take
some consolation in knowing that the power pole-chopping that caused the outage also
saved a life. 4. Performing an Emergency Tracheotomy with a
Pocketknife and a Pen If you had to choose a time and a place to
face a health emergency, you couldn’t do much better than the Bakersfield, California
restaurant where community college trustee Pauline Larwood started choking in September
of 2013. Larwood was attending a symposium on Valley
fever and the nearby restaurant was packed with top doctors from around the country. When Larwood started choking and the Heimlich
maneuver did not help, several of the doctors present jumped into action to improvise to
perform an emergency tracheotomy to save Larwood’s life. Dr. Royce Johnson, a UCLA medical professor
and chief of infectious diseases at Kern Medical Center, used a friend’s pocketknife to make
an incision. Dr. Thomas Friedan, Director of the CDC, monitored
Larwood’s pulse. When someone called for a pen, Dr. Paul Krogstad,
a UCLA medical professor, broke it in half, placing the hollow tube in the incision Dr.
Johnson had made. Larwood was rushed to the hospital, and released
the next day, expected to make a complete recovery thanks to the ingenuity and quick
reflexes of her fellow diners. 3. Creating a Spacecraft Air Filter Adaptor Using
a Sock and Duct Tape “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These immortal (and often-misquoted) words
entered the national consciousness during the Apollo 13 lunar mission in April of 1970. The spacecraft became crippled, with two out
of three fuel cells inoperable, after an oxygen tank burst. The three-man astronaut crew hurriedly moved
into the smaller lunar module to reduce their electrical usage to preserve enough power
to get back to Earth. However, the team quickly faced a new threat:
the buildup of exhaled carbon dioxide in the lunar module would kill the astronauts if
they and the NASA team on the ground couldn’t devise a way to filter it out. The spacecraft was equipped with some backup
canisters of lithium hydroxide to remove carbon dioxide, but the square canisters didn’t
fit the lunar module’s round openings. NASA engineers, led by Ed Smylie, worked diligently
to find a solution. The jerry-rigged adaptor they created, which
was reproduced by the astronauts using the material onboard their spacecraft, included
plastic from a garment bag, cardboard from an instruction manual, a tube sock, and duct
tape. This makeshift air scrubber enabled the astronauts
to keep breathing until their safe splashdown on Earth days later. 2. Using a Paddle and Ladder to Stay Fed and
Hydrated After a Shipwreck In 1971, Dougal and Lyn Robertson, along with
their three children, set forth on the voyage of a lifetime. Lyn and Dougal, a retired mariner, had sold
their farm, ploughed the proceeds into a 43-foot schooner, and planned to sail around the world
to show their children the “university of life.” However, 17 months into their journey, the
family, plus a student hitchhiker, got more life experience than they could have bargained
for. The boat was boat was struck by a pod of whales
and quickly sunk, leaving its six passengers on an inflatable raft and, after that deflated,
a small dinghy. The group had limited food and water and had
to be resourceful to survive. They made a spear out of a paddle and used
it to kill turtles and a shark, which they used for food and hydration, supplemented
by rainwater they caught in containers. Because the rainwater that collected in the
boat was polluted by turtle blood, Lyn, who had been a nurse, administered enemas using
tubes from the rung of a ladder, to keep the group hydrated. These improvised solutions kept the family
alive during the 38 days they were adrift before a passing fishing vessel spotted their
flare and rescued them. 1. Jerry-Rigging a Pediatric Nebulizer at 30,000
Feet In September of 2015, the parents of an asthmatic
2-year old made a mistake that could have cost their son his life, accidentally placing
his medication in checked luggage for a transatlantic flight from Spain to the US. Luckily for the parents and the toddler, who
had an asthma attack during the flight, Dr. Khurshid Guru, director of robotic surgery
at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was on board. After determining that the child’s oxygen
levels were at dangerously diminished levels, Dr. Guru took action. The onboard medical kit had only an adult
inhaler, which the child was too young to be able to use effectively, but Dr. Guru was
undeterred. Using the inhaler, a water bottle, a plastic
cup, some tape, and an oxygen mask, he fashioned a makeshift nebulizer to deliver the medication
to the child without requiring the young patient to do anything other than breathe through
the device. The child’s oxygen levels improved, and
by landing, the toddler was playing with his grateful parents.


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