At age 23, Erin sustained life-threatening injuries in a car accident. She recalls, “I remember my friend just bought a car. All we did was drive down the street and went to turn around, and that is when the video stops in my mind.” What she doesn’t remember is the car hitting the curb, going airborne and slamming down on its side. And it was Erin’s side that took the full impact.
The helicopter arrived and medevacked Erin out. On the way to the hospital, she received more blood than the crew had ever given a patient in-flight. It was apparent she suffered a neck injury and internal bleeding, but no one knew the extent of her injuries until she arrived at the Scott & White trauma center.
The prognosis was devastating. She had a broken neck, brain trauma, broken ribs, a pierced heart, shattered pelvis, two broken arms, a broken left leg, bladder injury, spleen damage, collapsed lungs and a lacerated liver. She also had an injury some physicians refer to as an “internal decapitation” – a very unstable injury where nothing is left holding the head in place except the skin, trachea and a few small muscles. Just moving Erin to the operating table could cause injury.
“The curious thing that confused people, I had no broken skin.” Erin said. “It’s like putting a wine glass in a bag and smashing it. The bag is intact, but everything is broken.”
Erin was fortunate that Scott & White has a Level I trauma center where everything a trauma patient might need is available, including a huge team of paramedics, nurses, techs, physicians, surgical teams, residents, lab teams, radiology techs, radiologists, anesthesiologists, ICU staff and respiratory therapists.
Even those who deal with emergencies every day were shocked by Erin’s condition. Her trauma surgeon, Matthew Davis, MD, FACS, could tell right away that this was a fairly unusual situation and that survival from this combination of injuries is rare. “Her injuries I have never seen before. There is no one described like her in the literature,” he said. “The fact we got her here, I said we have to finish the deal and hope it goes well.” He and his emergency room team worked for 18 hours straight – giving everything they had, hoping for the best.
A Broken Body But Not Spirit
After tense days in the ER, OR and ICU, Erin spent time at the Continuing Care Hospital (CCH) for rehabilitation. Dr. Davis stayed involved throughout all of Erin’s hospitalization, including her stay at the CCH. Another doctor who was closely involved in Erin’s recovery was Christopher Chaput, MD, Director of Orthopedic Research. Like Dr. Davis, he went to great lengths so that Erin would regain a normal life. He explains, “I performed a surgery using a new technique where I take out the rods after the injury heals and allow her to regain some of her range of motion in the neck, instead of just making her neck very stiff.”
Eight weeks after her accident, Erin was released. She received additional rehab as an outpatient for four more weeks, and, within four months, she was back at work. She has scars but has fully recovered, which she credits to the entire Scott & White team.
Erin reflects, “It’s important for me to do the best I can for myself, but I don’t want to let them down. They wanted to make sure I could go back to my everyday life. It was important for me to get back into a car, just to say that I did this. It was a testimonial to what they did and what they contributed.” Dr. Davis adds, “She was touched by multiple people at Scott & White, and we functioned well or none of it would have been possible.”