May is Trauma Awareness Month

May is Trauma Awareness Month. You often hear me talk about what happens inside the Trauma Center at Theda Clark Medical Center. But this year is different. I want to talk about what happens outside of this building that makes all the difference.

Just as we have protocols and systems in place here at the Trauma Center so that each individual knows his or her role before a trauma event takes place, so too does the state have an organized approach to dealing with trauma situations that require a coordinated effort from multiple organizations.

The State Trauma System took nearly a decade to develop and establish, finally implementing initial trauma plan recommendations in 2001. With unintentional injury as the leading cause of death in Wisconsin for people age 1-44 years old (and the 4th leading cause of death for all age groups), the system has been much-appreciated and much-used ever since.

Last summer, 12 motorcyclists were traveling together when ten of them were struck by a car that crossed the center line on Hwy. 151 just north of Fond du Lac. The debris field stretched the length of two football fields. One rider was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash took place in a rural area in the middle of the afternoon. The closest hospital was approximately 11 miles away. The nearest trauma center – Theda Clark – stood 43 miles away. First responders on the scene were dispatched from the volunteer fire department in the Town of Calumet.

So much of the outcome for these patients depended on the decisions of those first responders to the incident being properly prepared and aware of the available resources. If any piece of the puzzle is missing, the whole system breaks down.

In all, nine patients were transported to definitive care at two separate hospitals. It required the help of three helicopters, five ambulances, two fire departments, multiple EMS and first responders, the Fond du Lac County sheriff’s department, the Wisconsin State Patrol, a medical examiner, the communications command center, a photo-journalist, a neighbor, a truck driver and many other bystanders to control the scene and get these patients the help they needed quickly and efficiently.

Several of the people involved in the horrific crash that day honestly had no business living through this. Yet they survived their injuries. This case exemplifies extraordinary teamwork and illustrates how multiple organizations work together to save lives.

People say “it takes a village.” In this case, it took a State Trauma System.

Ray Georgen, MD, FACS
Trauma Medical Director