Ten years ago this month, UF Health Shands Hospital opened the UF Health Shands Trauma Center, a Level 1 trauma center staffed with the experts and equipment needed to take care of patients with the most deadly and devastating injuries. Now, more than 24,000 patients later, we’re celebrating some of the lives that have been saved as a result of this care.
By April Frawley
For as long as she can remember, Hayley Lewis has wanted to be a NASA engineer, and as of June, her dreams were on track. The 19-year-old Lake City native had just finished her freshman year at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she majored in aerospace engineering with a minor in space studies. She was a well-rounded student, too. She competed on the university’s cross-country and track teams and played guitar.
But on June 28, those dreams — and her life — almost came to a shattering end. While riding an all-terrain vehicle with friends in rural Hamilton County, situated on the Florida-Georgia border, Lewis wrecked, the four-wheeler landing on top of her.
“I was knocked out cold,” Lewis says. “They didn’t think I would live through the helicopter ride.”
UF Health ShandsCair airlifted Lewis to the Level 1 trauma center at UF Health Shands Hospital.
“I got the phone call no parent ever wants to get,” says Jackie Lewis, Lewis’ mother, who rushed to Gainesville from Clearwater. “We couldn’t get back to see her initially. With a brain trauma, there are so many unknowns; even the doctors cannot tell you all of what is going to go on.”
Lewis suffered a 6-millimeter bleed on the right side of her brain, bleeding in the front of her brain and swelling throughout. After initial treatment by the trauma team, led by Linda Atteberry, M.D., Lewis spent a week in the trauma ICU, her brain beginning to repair itself. But the path to recovery was not easy. The injury caused her to become agitated and violent, ripping out her IV tubes and hallucinating.
“When she first came to, she could not use her left side. She didn’t know where she was or why she was in the hospital. It was like two weeks of living in a nightmare,” Jackie Lewis says. “But then it turned on a dime. There were signs that the old Hayley was coming back.”
After a week in the trauma ICU and a week in the neuro unit, Lewis was transferred to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital, where therapists began to help her learn to run again and practice guitar. After a week, she was sent home with her family.
Given the severity of her injuries, Lewis’ speedy recovery has surprised everyone. She’s already graduated from outpatient occupational therapy and is now working to regain her competitive running skills. Her memory is the only thing that’s suffered. She forgot calculus and physics — and how to play the guitar — and is busy rebuilding her academic memory so she can return to Embry-Riddle in the fall. Her goals remain intact, and she thanks UF Health Shands Hospital for that.
“I am so happy that I was immediately sent to Shands because without Shands, I don’t know another hospital that could have helped me the way they did,” she says.
Every Friday, Joe Parker visits the UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital to volunteer. He spends most of his time talking to patients who are frustrated by the long, slow, often draining process of recovery and rehabilitation, encouraging them not to give up.
To do that, he tells them his story.
On Nov. 14, 2013, on his way back to work after already finishing a long shift, Parker, 26, fell asleep at the wheel. He woke up to his car careening into the guardrail. Trying to correct, he lost control, hit a ditch and flipped four times. When he came to, his right arm was pinned under the car and he was in the backseat. He hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt.
“I probably lay there for 45 minutes or so until someone called 911,” he says. “I couldn’t feel my legs. They cut me out and put a collar on me. One of the guys he asked me if I had ever been on a helicopter ride before. I said, ‘No.’”
UF Health ShandsCair flew Parker to the UF Health Shands Trauma Center, where the team quickly assessed him, rushing him to an MRI and CT scan and then into surgery.
Parker had suffered a spinal cord injury that left him unable to walk. He spent two weeks in the trauma ICU, where staff members helped him learn how to sit up again. On Nov. 26, he was transferred to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital. There, therapists began working with him to master daily tasks, such as getting dressed and washing himself.
“I have two rods and six screws holding my back together,” he says. “It used to take an hour and a half to shower and now it takes a half-hour. I can dress myself, too.”
He was discharged a month later, although he still goes to the UF Health Rehab Center – Magnolia Parke twice a week for physical therapy. In October, he will start additional therapy for his legs and hopes to get braces that will help him relearn how to walk.
“I have been improving a lot,” he says. “I can feel my left leg to my foot, and my right leg to my calf. It has been a lot of hard work. I am determined to get up and walk again so I have been pushing myself.”
Right now he’s unable to continue his old line of work — he was a semi-truck driver — so Parker also has been focused on finding new opportunities for himself. He loves hunting and the outdoors so he’s starting a nuisance hog removal business and plans to help a friend with his landscaping business. But the highlight of his week is his visit to the Rehab Hospital.
“I like when they tell me someone came in and said I changed the way he was thinking,” he says. “I encourage them not to give up. They can overcome these obstacles. If you let a chair hold you back, then you are not going to succeed.
“You can overcome anything with the spirit of God and see what he has in store for you. He gave me another chance and has a purpose for me, and I am seeing what it is.”
On the night before Thanksgiving in 2013, Nicole Keys, 19, was being the good friend, acting as a designated driver and dropping her friends off at their homes in Gainesville before heading back to her own place in Trenton.
At 4 a.m. while she was driving through Alachua, Keys smashed into a tree with the driver’s side of her car. The force of the crash caused the car to wrap around the tree and launched Keys, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, into the passenger side. She went into a coma on impact.
After an off-duty police officer found her and called 911, she was taken to the UF Health Shands Trauma Center, where the trauma team discovered she had suffered a traumatic brain injury, as well as a fractured jaw and pelvis.
“They originally didn’t think she was going to make it or wake up,” remembers her father, Ty Keys.
Keys remained in a coma for a month and a half. After she woke up, her body was so stiff she could not raise her arm above her head or walk. Because of her significant injuries, calcification occurred in her leg while her bones were healing. The calcification caused an extra piece of bone to develop in her leg. In addition, her right vocal cord was paralyzed, which surgeons tried to repair.
Eventually, she moved to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital to relearn how to walk. She progressed from holding on to something to using a cane to learning how to run again. For Keys, running is a crucial skill to relearn, because without it, she won’t be able to show her dog again.
At age 11, Keys asked her father for a puppy. He agreed, if she earned enough points in her reading program. A month — and seven Harry Potter books — later, Keys began searching for a Chinese shar-pei rescue dog. The search led her to one of the top Chinese shar-pei breeders in the country, who gave Keys a puppy as long as she made one promise — that she show the wrinkly pup in dog shows.
By the time she was a teenager, Keys had become the No. 1 Chinese shar-pei junior handler in the country. She has showed at Westminster, Eukanuba and other prominent national competitions.
Now in outpatient care at the UF Health Rehab Center – Magnolia Parke, Keys is still learning how to run again, and hopes she will soon be strong enough to go to dog shows again with her new dog, another Chinese shar-pei named Mardi Gras.
“At Magnolia Parke, they have a treadmill and harness that you turn up as fast as you can go,” she says. “I started off on Level 1. Now I’m on Level 4, which is like a jog. My right leg knows how to run and my left leg does not.”
She’s also working on rebuilding her memory. It comes back in bits and pieces, but her memories are fuzzy from the past few years. At first she didn’t remember graduating high school, but this and other memories have slowly returned. She can drive herself now and she’s taking classes again at Santa Fe College. She plans to return to taking a full load of courses next semester.
“When she was in the trauma ICU, they told us there were three roads: She could get better quick, we could lose her, or it would be a marathon,” her father says. “It has been a marathon. We are fortunate. She is better than where they expected her to be.”
Somewhere on a rural stretch of road between Alachua and Newberry in March 2006, the car careened off the road, crashing through a wooden fence. Steven Hayes, then a 17-year-old high school student, doesn’t remember the crash or how it happened. But when he came to, he discovered he’d been impaled by one of the fence rails.
Luckily, a nurse lived next door and rushed outside to help Hayes and the friend he was with, who was also hurt. In another stroke of luck, UF Health ShandsCair happened to be flying nearby and an ambulance was quick to the scene.
“I remember the helicopter flight,” says Hayes, now 25. “I was real focused on breathing. I remember all the way up to the operating room. I remember them cutting my pants off and snipping off my necklace.
“I woke up 30 days later.”
The fence rail had severely damaged Hayes’ liver. Lawrence Lottenberg, M.D., the trauma surgeon who oversaw Hayes’ case that night, called in another surgeon from the liver transplant team to help him repair the damage. Hayes was in and out of surgery twice that first night and losing blood as fast as he was getting it, remembers his mother, Sharon Hayes, a UF Health Shands employee.
“Dr. Lottenberg came out to see me and said it was bad, really bad,” she says. “He told me, ‘If he makes it through the next 72 hours, he has a chance.’ I found out a year later they only thought he had a 10 percent chance of living when he was brought in.”
He was kept in an induced coma for a month while he underwent surgeries — six in all — to repair the damage to his liver. After he woke up, he spent a week in the trauma ICU and was transferred to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital on his birthday.
“Once I got up and moving, I started getting strength back. It took maybe a week. My legs and arms were fine,” he says.
Eight years later, Hayes has no physical effects from the trauma. He works at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in sterile processing and hopes to continue working in health care. In his free time, he goes camping, spends time with friends, plays video games and listens to music. Eventually, he hopes to go back to school.
Over the years, he’s gotten used to running into hospital staff members who helped take care of him when he was injured. He doesn’t remember them or much of anything from his time in the hospital, but he said he is fiercely loyal and grateful to the trauma center. His mother is too.
“I don’t think he would be here today had it not been for the trauma center,” Sharon Hayes says. “He went through something no parent ever wants to get a phone call about. If we had been anywhere else I don’t think he would have survived. They are amazing people at what they do, and as a community we are fortunate to have them here.”