Trauma Survivor Reunion
Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center is the flagship county healthcare facility in Los Angeles and one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States. It is world renown for its volume and contributions to the management of difficult trauma patients. Over 4,500 trauma cases are seen yearly at the medical center that primarily serves the uninsured and those in the underprivileged parts of the city. The catchment area of the hospital includes several gang-filled neighborhoods, and it is not uncommon to have repeat admissions for violent crimes. However, not all traumas that arrive at the hospital are crime related. Though the crime related traumas comprise a large portion, the majority of trauma patients are accidents, innocent bystanders and unfortunate events.
The Trauma Survivor Reunion was started in 2008 and was the brain child of one of our US Navy trauma surgeons. One day while walking down the hospital hallways, a young man approached him smiling and walked towards him. This young man greeted him, “Hi Doc! Remember me?” The surgeon was unsure at first, but upon looking harder, realized he was the young man who had spent multiple days in the intensive care unit, initially in a comatose state and then with a gradual recovery of function. He subsequently was transferred to a rehabilitation facility for further recovery. Upon his departure from our care, it was unsure how much function he would recover due to his severe head injury. However, after many months of rehabilitation, this young man has returned to school and drives!
It was at that point he thought how many of these patients have we invested our time, energy and hearts and never really know their full recovered state? Our first Reunion brought back about 10 survivors and their families. We sought out those patients that made those amazing recoveries and defied all odds and survived. It was meant to be a time of reflecting, healing, reconnecting and reunions. Those that made it back showed amazing recoveries; school, work, driving, vacations, all things that surpassed our wildest dreams for them.
The first year was simply a get-together of patients, families and the health care staff that was involved in their care that included physicians, nurses, therapists and nutritionists. It included a short program to introduce the patients and time for socializing. The patients and families expressed their appreciation and the health care workers were reminded of what their roles were in these very sick patients. What became clear after the first reunion was that this was a process of healing for these patients. It brought for them closure, allowed them to meet and thank those that cared for them, and took away the fear of the hospital.
The reunion has grown to over 35 patients and their families with greater participation from other specialties including neurosurgery and orthopedics. The program is gaining recognition in the community as well as local government. The event has been featured in the LA Times and has brought attention to the community, highlighting the care the patients receive while at the county hospital.
With the growth of patients and participation, funding has been expanded to sponsorship from private donations as well as charitable sponsors from companies. The event takes the opportunity to educate the community on preventative measures. It reassures that the medical center continues to strive to give the best medical care despite its location and that the medical staff takes pride in our care for them. It also shows the community that we are here to support all those who need our help regardless of their financial status, situation or reason for their arrival. In addition, the hospital takes this opportunity to give resources for our preventative programs including Caught in the Crossfire/Youth Alive! and SafeKids.
As the program grows, the goals of the reunion have expanded. Not only do we look forward to seeing those patients whot we have spent hours with, but we hope to give them the closure and leave them with a good feeling of the hospital. In addition, the renewing of the staff’s spirits and affirmation of their work allows us to push forward on those patients with prolonged and protracted recovery. We can look upon those who were comatose or required aggressive life sustaining measures and are now enjoying a healthy, vibrant life that would not be without dedicated health care professionals that nursed them back to life. It is also an opportunity to bring forth the preventative programs and to make an impact, not only on our patients, but potentially any family or friends who have witnessed these unfortunate situations that these patients endure.