n the emergency room, doctors organized a team to treat Nikia’s most urgent issues. Joshua Walker, M.D., and Frederick Moore, M.D., treated her for shock and worked on a plan with anesthesia experts to insert a tube in her airway. Even for Walker, an emergency room veteran, it was a troubling scene. Nikia’s only complaint was being cold. Walker glanced at a colleague, absorbing the other doctor’s worried look. Then, he pressed on.
How could such a thing happen? But at least she’s alert and talking to us.
The urgent calls went out. Thomas Beaver, M.D., the chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, was awakened. Fellow surgeon Mauricio Pipkin, M.D., rushed back to the hospital he had left just three hours earlier.
Nikia lay sedated in an operating room packed with nurses, specialists and technicians. Beaver and his colleagues made a plan, getting a heart-lung bypass machine called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, on standby. Then, it was time to operate.
Beaver carefully cut around the protruding wood. The injuries were horrific. The fence rail missed Nikia’s heart but pierced the root of her right lung.
Still, the hunk of wood was also lifesaving. Somehow, it had sealed her blood vessels, preventing a fatal hemorrhage. Beaver worked quickly, stapling the blood vessels feeding Nikia’s lungs. No more than two minutes had passed since his first incision and the removal of the wood.
She didn’t bleed to death. It’s a miracle she could get through this surgery.
Pipkin then took over, noting that most of her right lung was gone and her left lung was failing. Nikia’s airway had a gaping hole. Making a terrible situation even worse, the dirty fence rail had smeared bacteria throughout her chest cavity.
The surgical team devised a bold plan. Instead of placing a drainage tube and leaving a permanent hole in Nikia’s chest, they opted for sequential cleaning. They would pack her chest with iodine-soaked sponges. Every few days, they would swap out the sponges and clean the chest cavity. Eventually, Nikia’s chest would be sterile again.
That is, if she lived.
But first, five hours of difficult surgery loomed. Pipkin took tissue from the wall of the lung’s main passageway, making a flap to close the hole in Nikia’s windpipe. Amid the catastrophic injuries was a godsend: The wood was within an inch of Nikia’s heart. At a slightly different angle or position, she wouldn’t be alive.
When we see a patient with that kind of injury, they are already dead. The fence hit the only spot that would let her live.
The injuries were so gruesome they made Beaver recall his time in Iraq as an Army reservist.
It certainly brought back memories of the trauma we saw over there.