In January 2008, 21-year-old UMass Lowell student Rachel Carnes was on the sidewalk near the college library when the driver of a passing car lost consciousness. The car jumped the curb and hit Rachel, fracturing her back and sending her flying. When she landed, the impact crushed the right side of her skull.
"I learned later that no one thought I'd live," Rachel says. But thanks to fast, carefully coordinated trauma care among local emergency medical services and its advanced life support team, Lowell General Hospital's emergency department, LifeFlight air ambulance and neurosurgeons at Boston Medical Center, today she is functioning at what she characterizes as "almost 100 percent."
Within minutes of the accident, an unconscious Rachel was brought by ambulance with advanced life support to Lowell General Hospital, which is a state-designated Level III Trauma Center. This means the hospital has met rigorous national standards for trauma care.
"The state has specific triage protocols for where a trauma patient goes," explains Vanessa Barrett, RN, CEN, Lowell General's trauma coordinator. "If transport is more then 20 minutes to a Level I or II Trauma Center, then the patient is brought to a Level III center like Lowell General first for stabilization and assessment."
"The severity of Rachel's injuries required a higher level of care, so we stabilized her here then flew her via helicopter to Boston Medical Center," recalls Francesco Corvi, MD, one of the Advanced Trauma Life Support-certified physicians in Lowell General's Emergency Department. "It all happened in less than an hour."
That speed likely helped save Rachel's life.
"You have to be quick to recognize when you can treat an injury and when you need more advanced care," Dr. Corvi says. This expertise is part of what earned Lowell General Hospital its Level III Trauma Center verification.
After numerous surgeries and a rehabilitation period, she returned to school and today is living a "normal" life.
"I feel blessed," Rachel adds.
Rachel's story could have had a much different outcome if one step in the trauma care process had been missed."
Vanessa Barrett, RN, CEN - Lowell General's Trauma Coordinator