March 28, 2015, started out like any other Saturday for Richard Simons and his wife, Susan. The couple had just wrapped up a trip to the grocery store and was on their way home, when the wind started to pick up.
“We were about three miles out of town and all of sudden we were engulfed in a black cloud of dust and debris. We couldn’t see a thing,” Simons recalled. “I don’t really remember what happened next, but we were involved in a terrible accident on Interstate-90. I remember slowing down, but I didn’t want to stop because we didn’t know who was in front of or behind us. I ended up colliding with a vehicle in front of us, which then caused our vehicle to spin and we were hit broadside by a truck. My wife did not survive the accident.”
Simons, 72, sustained numerous injuries during the traumatic crash and was transported to St. Vincent Healthcare by an area ambulance service.
“His life depended on everybody doing their part flawlessly, beginning with the EMS providers on the scene and continuing through the ED, OR and Cath Lab teams. It helped so much that we all knew each other and had a mutual trust and teamwork that have been honed every day for years,” said St. Vincent emergency physician, Dr. Douglas Parker. “While very focused and intent, we didn’t panic because we knew we could count on everyone to do their part.
Upon arrival to the St. Vincent Healthcare Emergency Department, it was determined that Simons was suffering from a pericardial tamponade. A pericardial tamponade occurs when blood fills the sac around the heart, causing pressure on the heart. Dr. Parker and St. Vincent trauma surgeon, Dr. Michael Wilcox, began using syringes to draw blood from the area around the patient’s heart. Simons temporarily improved each time they drew blood, but they needed assistance from the cardiac team.
While in the emergency department, St. Vincent cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Jason Fitzgerald, emergently opened the patient’s chest to control the pressure on the heart and promptly transported the patient to the operating room with the cardiovascular team.
In the operating room, the patient was found to have a traumatic thoracic aortic tear. Dr. Fitzgerald and St. Vincent vascular surgeon, Dr. Kevin Bruen performed the aortic repair.
More than 80-percent of patients who sustain a traumatic thoracic aortic tear die on scene and the odds of survival are slim even if they do make it to a hospital.
“This was one of the most memorable and gratifying cases of my career. It demonstrated why we go to all the work and planning of a trauma system,” said Dr. Parker. “Because of it, our patient went on to survive an injury that has a 90-98% mortality rate among those who arrive to the ED unstable.”
“When I woke up in the ICU, I remember the doctor telling me that I was a very lucky man. They told me that no one ever comes through the emergency department in my condition, alive,” Simon said. “That was pretty impressive to hear. It’s absolutely fantastic what the doctors and nurses were able to do for me.”
Simon spent one week in St. Vincent Healthcare’s Intensive Care Unit and one week in recovery on the third floor of the hospital. He’s now back at home and on the mend.
“My lungs were pretty badly bruised, so I’m still a bit sore and have shortness of breath, but I’m healing up pretty well,” Simon explained. “I have my good days and bad days, but I’m trying to keep a positive outlook. I have a great support network both at St. Vincent Healthcare and at home.”
“I truly believe that the exceptional care delivered in the field and carried through the entire hospital stay, gave this gentleman an extraordinary second chance at life,” added St. Vincent Healthcare Trauma Coordinator, Samantha Kaufman. “It was a true team effort.”