Trauma patients feted by staff

Event provides closure, camaraderie

Unless they are return patients, it's a rare event for ED providers to see the individuals they treat after they've been discharged. But at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL, leaders of the facility's Level I Trauma Center recognized that because the staff usually sees the patients when they are in the worst shape, it would be of great benefit to re-connect with those who have recovered and see living proof of their successes.

They decided to bring their former patients back for a special event to honor them for their survival and to let them re-connect with the staff and meet other patients with similar experiences. The event, called Fall Festival of Life: Honoring Our Trauma Patients, took place on Oct. 17, 2010, and is planned as an annual event.

"We get to see the fruits of our labor," explains Tom Esposito, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care, and Burns, noting that such an event is a good morale booster. "We thought it would be a nice idea to bring them back to honor them and in a small way pat ourselves on the back and see that the hard work we put in to try and save these people really does pay off."

"We see a lot of sad stories in a trauma center, but we also see some success stories in terms of people who have be seriously injured and then recovered," Esposito says. "We thought it would be nice to recognize their courage and perseverance as survivors of the leading cause of death in the 1-34 age group."

Jan Gillespie, RN, trauma program manager, says, "When you look at all that trauma centers are doing, it's important to look at our patients who survive and really celebrate their success — and our success."

Esposito adds such an event has PR value as well. "In terms of creating good will, absolutely; it's good for the community to know we're here when they need us," he says. "But by definition the trauma system takes in patients based on how they appear in the field, so we were not trying to increase market share, but just let them know trauma makes a difference."

A three-hour event

The celebration crammed a lot of activity into three hours, says Gillespie, who says that the event was held in the cafeteria of the Stritch School of Medicine on the campus of Loyola University Medical Center. The event began with an introduction from Esposito, who talked about the importance of trauma care and trauma systems.

"We had several families come up and tell their stories and what they're doing today," she says.

An invitation was extended to other patients to come up and share their stories, and several who hadn't expected to talk did so. "Many survivors brought pictures of themselves during the course of their stay," adds Gillespie, who says the event concluded with a picnic-type lunch and a cutting of the cake honoring the patients.

There were also opportunities for staff to interact with patients during check-in. "Before we sat down to eat, everyone went around to all the tables where the patients were, talked with them, and made sure they felt welcomed," adds Gillespie. (Patients received personal invitations to the event, and staff was notified and asked to attend. See the story, below.)

Gillespie saw the event as "a healing time" for the patients. "Nobody goes out and decides to have a trauma. It happens very suddenly and unexpectedly, and changes lives forever," she notes. "There are different stages of healing. One is to go back, see where you were, talk about those who took care of you about how they viewed your experience."

Patients also want to thank the staff, Gillespie adds. "Many trauma patients simply go through their stay, then rehab, then go home, and do not get to interface with us after rehab," she says.

For some of these patients, it's the first time they've ever talked in public about what they went through, Gillespie says. "Sometimes it's very helpful if you know you're not the only one out there who has had such an experience," she says.

Esposito labels the even a success. "The feedback that we got from the patients was that they were appreciative of us doing this," he says. In addition, he notes, a "survivor's group" has been spawned as a result of the event, to enable other patients to share their experiences. Details are still being worked out. "For a lot of these patients it was the first time they met each other, and many had similar injuries and similar feelings and they felt they should share their experiences more often," Esposito explains.


For more information on events to celebrate surviving patients, contact:

  • Tom Esposito, MD, MPH, Chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care, and Burns, and Jan Gillespie, RN, Trauma Program Manager, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL. Phone: (708) 2072.

Attendees chosen for trauma reunion

To generate attendance at the first annual Fall Festival of Life: Honoring Our Trauma Patients, the leadership of the Level I trauma center at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL, made sure that patients and staff could put the event on their calendars by giving them advance notice.

"We sent invitations to all trauma patients who had had Injury Severity Scores of 17 or above in the previous two years, as well as several other families who had been with us for a long time," says Jan Gillespie, RN, trauma program manager.

Invitations also were sent out to members of a local group called Cease Fire, with whom the center has worked closely. "After a violent situation in the neighborhood, with the patient's permission they will go into the neighborhood and try to stop retaliation," Gillespie explains.

All residents rotate through trauma, and so residents, attending physicians, nurses, and social workers were asked to attend, she says.

About 50 people — former patients and staff — attended, says Gillespie, "But we have gotten many calls after event from people who missed it and asked us to be sure to include them next year, and we received many 'thank yous' from those who came and want to come back."

Tom Esposito, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care, and Burns, says, "We'd like to have seen more, but this is our first effort. We've also talked about adding something more enduring like a tree planting or a trauma garden."