Trauma Survivors Tell Stories of Strength, Resilience
Dewayne Brown choked back tears as he recalled the day he was rushed to the George Washington University (GW) Hospital with injuries from a shooting. Brown was shot in the chest and the back, but thanks to his strength of will, the support of his family, and the work of his hospital team, he was able to return to GW’s Foggy Bottom campus and tell his story at the annual GW Hospital Trauma Survivors' Day.
“I remember [thinking] that I was in the best care facility that I could be in,” Brown said of his time in the hospital, a stay that lasted 20 days. “I remember the nurses, and they did their job with a passion and they made me feel much better. And I was so thankful to be around them, because they really helped me to get through. … I’m just so thankful to be here today.”
Brown wasn’t the only patient in attendance who survived being shot in the heart. Corey Riggins Jr., 16 years old, also suffered from the same injury, among others, at the age of 15. He arrived at the hospital with damage to his heart, liver, stomach, diaphragm, and intestines.
Riggins went into cardiac arrest three times while the trauma team was repairing his heart, stomach, and liver, said Babak Sarani, MD ’97, chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at GW Hospital and associate professor of surgery at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“[Corey] was hospitalized with us for 18 days, and I remember seeing him for his first post-operative visit in the clinic, and I was looking so incredibly forward to seeing him. … So I’ll say to you what I said to him when I walked into the room and saw him in the office: ‘Corey, seeing you makes me happy,’ ” Sarani said, hugging Riggins as both wiped tears from their eyes.
The seventh annual event celebrated the patients’ strength and survival, giving them a chance to talk about their experiences and reunite with some of the people at GW Hospital who helped save their lives.
“I am so pleased to spend the morning celebrating our remarkable patients and really learning and hearing more about their touching stories,” said GW Hospital CEO and Managing Director Kimberly Russo, MBA, MS. “I’m proud to say that we’ve been holding this heartfelt event for seven years. We know that when a trauma patient comes through our doors, he or she is likely experiencing one of the worst days of their lives. Every single member of our team springs into action in order to help care for the patient.”
Sarani also thanked everyone involved in the process of saving lives, from the first responders and police officers to the entire hospital staff.
Two patients whose care brought in specialists from all areas of the hospital were fire Capt. John Jacobsen and his wife, Tracey Jacobsen. The couple were visiting Washington, D.C., from California when they were hit by a car after they exited a restaurant.
John broke nine ribs and his breastbone, punctured his lung, and tore his liver. Tracey sustained even greater trauma, requiring help from the emergency department, trauma surgery, cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery, intensive care, infectious disease, wound care, acute pain service, palliative pain service, multiple nursing divisions, therapy, radiology, and the pharmacy.
Tracey spent six weeks at GW Hospital, but finally in July was able to fly back to California to be reunited with her children.
"The first four weeks are pretty fuzzy, but the last couple weeks when I started to recover quickly, I had a lot of support from the nursing staff and the doctors,” Tracey said.
For a time, she added, she thought she was back in California and the hospital staff kept asking if she knew she was at GW Hospital. “I thought if I memorized George Washington University Hospital, that they would let me out sooner,” she joked. “So I sat there and looked at the board and said ‘I am at George Washington University Hospital.’ And I’m really blessed and thankful that I was at George Washington University Hospital and to Dr. Sarani and the other doctors and the nurses that got me home to my family.”
Sarani ended the event with an announcement about a new endowed lecture series. The Rosemary and David Bowes Lecture Series on Trauma and Critical Care will be established in memory of Vaughn Scott Bigelow Jr., who at the age of 13 was killed by a gun man. His mother and brother were also injured in the incident. The lecture series will honor every person who contributes to survival in a trauma situation.