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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Hospital Employee Survives Tree Impalement — Credits a Medical Community that Cared

An employee of the Emory University School of Medicine was on her way to work in Atlanta on Jan. 2, 2013, when a 100-foot tree fell on her car and put a limb the size of a fence post through her body. In what many would describe as a medical miracle, she survived.

It took more than 15 surgeries to repair damage to her body that included her ureter, bladder, and intestines. In the 22 months following the accident, Sylvia Ennis spent only 30 days outside of the hospital. She received world-class medical care, but it’s the Emory community that made her want to live, she said in an article published in Emory Medicine magazine.

Immediately after the accident, her Emory colleagues took food to Ennis’ extended family, put her name on church prayer chains, and set up a fund to help pay her medical bills. She received dozens of cards, including some from the children of her fellow Emory employees.

“If it wasn’t for the Emory community, I don’t know if I would have wanted to live,” Ennis said.

This story was brought to my attention by Bob Hatcher, MD, MPH, professor emeritus at the Emory School of Medicine and long-time chairman of the editorial board of Contraceptive Technology Update. “Sylvia Ennis survived because of personal qualities that could help any person with any health challenge,” Hatcher says. “She was healthy to start with: no pre-existing medical problems, a good wound healer, educated, compliant, and motivated. She attempted to make each step in the process fun, as much as possible.”

One of her providers said Ennis always had a “fantastic attitude. Even when she could only wear big, ugly mumus, she made it fun,” he said.

Hatcher says several other factors aided Ennis’ recovery:

  • As the first responders trimmed branches with power saws, an EMT inserted an IV line so fluids could be administered as she slipped into shock.
  • Ennis was treated at Grady Hospital’s Marcus Trauma Center, which is one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in the country and, according to Hatcher, “among the best.”
  • Her trauma surgeon points out “there was no routine protocol, no best-practices handbook on removing tree branches,” so the team did 10 things at a time.

Perhaps most importantly, Ennis maintained an attitude of gratitude as she recovered. In fact, she expresses only one regret. Immediately after the accident, an unknown man appeared at her car window and asked if she was OK. His immediate call for help might have saved her life. Her regret? She never learned his name. And she would like to say “thank you.” (Editor’s note: Get hospital-related news as it happens on Twitter @HospitalReport.)

Joy Daughtery Dickinson is executive editor of the Hospital Group of publications at AHC Media in Atlanta and long-time editor and writer of Same-Day Surgery. She has won nine national awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association and the Association of Business Information & Media Companies for her blogging, news writing, and editing. She makes her home in southwest Georgia.