Wednesday, May 3, 2017
On March 30, Dona Richardson was on speakerphone with her daughters as the girls drove from Radford University to her home in Ashland.
Then, she heard a bang. Then, silence.
“When the silence hit I kept telling them, ‘Wake up, I need to hear you. Somebody talk to me.’ I was trying to get a response,” Richardson said. “I don’t know if it was a feeling or more of me doing what I had to do. I removed myself at that point as a parent, emotionally, and it was just ‘Go’ time in my brain. I had to talk them through what they were going through. I had to hold it together to get them through what they were going through.”
As part of their conversation seconds earlier, her daughter Malina Richardson had mentioned a tractor trailer was driving erratically across the road. That truck eventually sideswiped the car she was in with her sister Maya Richardson. As a result, the girls’ vehicle ran into an embankment along Interstate Highway 64, heading east. Malina was ejected from the car, a Cavalier that had been in her family for years. After crashing, Maya Richardson climbed out of the vehicle and immediately went to help her sister.
Both girls were transported to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Maya Richardson was treated and released. Malina Richardson’s injuries were worse. She had suffered a punctured lung, a fractured left cheek, three fractured ribs, and second- and third-degree burns from oil that had leaked onto her face, arms and legs. There was also abdominal bleeding and other injuries. When Dona Richardson reached the emergency department she was unnerved, but eventually calmed by the trauma team’s response to her girls.
My first impression of the trauma team was that they were very organized and precise.
“My first impression of the trauma team was that they were very organized and precise,” Dona Richardson said. “All parties involved knew exactly how to handle the situation. Despite the severity of the [trauma] nobody allowed emotion to shake them, but allowed their clarity and their education to lead them.”
VCU Medical Center has been a state-designated trauma center since 1981, making it the longest-standing trauma center in the state. In 2015, VCU Medical Center was re-verified as a Level I trauma center by the Virginia Department of Health. It is the only Level I trauma center in Central Virginia and one of five in the state, providing comprehensive, specialized care for critically injured patients of all ages.
May is National Trauma Awareness Month and VCU Health is hosting several events to celebrate the thousands of patients treated there, and the staff who treat them urgently and empathetically.
“We brought the best to work for us and with us,” said Michel Aboutanos, M.D., VCU Medical Center trauma director. “We expanded the definition of ‘we’ and became incredibly multidisciplinary in all aspects. We have changed the paradigm of who we are and how we are seen in the community, and built a trauma center engaged in community affairs and solutions.”
Throughout the month, VCU Health is using all mediums to highlight all aspects of its trauma unit. On May 4, Jeffery Haynes, M.D., director of the Children’s Trauma Center at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, will be the subject of a Facebook Live event. May 6 is VCU Health’s annual Shining Knight Gala that honors the work done by those who treat trauma victims. A highlight of the evening is a detailed look into the journey of a trauma patient from injury to recovery. Also this month, there are other Facebook Live events scheduled with key trauma personnel including those from VCU Health’s emergency medical services department and VCU Medical Center. All events aim to offer the public insight into how trauma emergencies are handled.
Teaching trauma treatment
In addition to its role in educating the public, VCU Medical Center is also a teaching hospital that trains aspiring physicians through fellowship programs. Harinder Dhindsa, M.D., chief of emergency medicine, is clear that it will take another generation of well-rounded and compassionate physicians to maintain VCU Medical Center’s status.
“Treating every patient how you want your family member to be treated is fundamental to being a good clinician,” he said. “The field of emergency care, whether we are talking about emergency medical services personnel, emergency nurses or emergency physicians, has one of the highest stress and subsequent burnout rates. It is important for our providers and trainees to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent compassion fatigue and to keep them on top of their game.”
The emergency department is on the ground floor of VCU Medical Center in downtown Richmond. More than 95,000 patients are treated there each year, including more than 4,000 trauma patients. In 2016, VCU Health won a Vista Award for the execution and completed renovation of the now 67,000-square-foot space. The renovation’s final phase included new treatment areas for patients with a medical emergency such as stroke or heart attack, and an area devoted to behavioral health emergencies.
And yet, just as sophisticated as its adult trauma offerings is VCU Medical Center’s ability to treat children injured traumatically.
Breadth of trauma care
CHoR is the only American College of Surgeons-verified Level I pediatric trauma center in the state. VCU Medical Center is the only Level I Trauma Center in the state verified by the ACS as both a Level I adult and pediatric trauma center and by the American Burn Association as a Level I adult and pediatric burn center.
“While I have seen many very seriously injured children here, the thing about it that usually catches my attention is how well the staff and resources here can quickly meet the need of the injured child,” said Haynes, of CHoR. “As health care providers, it is a gut level instinct for all of us to help. At the pediatric level, that instinct is even stronger due to children’s innocence and vulnerability.”
CHoR’s safety net includes Safe Kids Virginia, a local chapter of the worldwide agency dedicated to preventing injuries and keeping children safe. The organization provides services like car-seat checkups, safety workshops and sports clinics that help parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries.
“It is a privilege to help lead and refine this program and virtually every time I have asked for help in any initiative to make our delivered pediatric trauma care better, the answer has always been yes,” Haynes said. “The staff loves doing this as well. This is a result of the combination of a mature Level 1 trauma center here in concert with the vast and specific pediatric trauma resources we are able to put into patient care as needed. The results have very often been just amazing in terms of patient care and survival.”
Dona Richardson can attest to amazing outcomes and survival. Her daughter, Malina, 21, was discharged from VCU Medical Center April 27 and is set to graduate from Radford University on May 6. As a mom, she fondly remembers the kindness and careful consideration she and her family experienced.
“There are certain nurses who have poured their education and passion into my child and made a difference,” Dona Richardson said. “The level of the student nurses and the staff nurses was just phenomenal. One nurse coordinated staff to speak with me, so I understood what was going on. The whole trauma team was just very thorough. They made me just as much a part of what was going on with their decisions.”
Making patients feel welcomed and involved is as important as being technologically equipped and highly ranked, Aboutanos said.
“Through all of our journey,” Aboutanos said “we remained patient-centered.”
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