A little over 13 months ago, I became a member of a club I had never wanted to join. I was in a serious motorcycle accident, but thanks to the staff at Ben Taub Hospital, where I was taken while unconscious with a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, and facial fractures that resulted in my mouth being wired shut for three weeks, I survived the accident and, now, thankfully I am pretty much back to normal.
Recently, I gathered with other members of this exclusive club at "A Celebration for Trauma Survivors," an annual dinner hosted by the Harris Health System to highlight the stories of 15 people among the thousands who were treated at Ben Taub, a Level I trauma center, and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, a Level III trauma center, last year.
More than 200 guests, including trauma survivors who had been honored in previous years, family members, and medical personnel from both hospitals celebrated at a dinner at the Bayou City Event Center. While it was a uplifting experience for the former hospital patients, with joyful tears and enthusiastic applause, the doctors, nurses, EMS specialists and other health professionals who were on hand insisted it was a special night for them, too.
"You all are all the wind beneath our wings," Dr. Kenneth L. Mattox, physician-in-chief and chief of surgery at Ben Taub Hospital, told the survivors. "You are why we come to work every day."
I sat in awe as I learned about the strength and fortitude of my fellow survivors through their life-affirming stories, which were detailed at the dinner and in a booklet that each guest received.
Zaida Morales was at a neighborhood food truck with a couple of friends when a drunk driver slammed into her, trapping her between his truck and a car. When she arrived at the Ben Taub emergency room, she was initially told there was only a 5 percent chance that her left leg could be saved. She underwent a 13-hour surgery in which doctors reconnected arteries in both legs, set broken bones and reconstructed both knees.
Since then, she has had 13 more surgeries. Though doctors believed it would likely take two years for her to walk again, she accomplished that goal in seven months. Last weekend, she took one of the most important walks in her life — across the stage as she graduated with her class at Spring Woods High School.
Erika Martinez and her young daughter were playing with a puzzle at their home when Erika heard a car alarm go off. She raced outside to find a man driving away in her new automobile. She ran after him, grabbing the door car as the thief continued driving, dragging her into the street and running over both of her legs.
An onlooker called 911 and EMTs took her to the emergency center at LBJ, where she underwent surgery for fractures in her foot that have made walking difficult. Even so, she feels blessed. She reckons the thief could have had a gun or she could have been paralyzed by her fall. "I have the best luck," she said.
And, she says, if it ever happens again, the thief can keep her car because she's not running after him.
Hermann Johnson was peppered with gunshots while at his ex-wife's house picking up his children and was rushed to Ben Taub. At one point his heart stopped and he was kept alive when doctors massaged it in a rare procedure that works only one out of 99 times. He underwent five surgeries, received 42 pints of blood, and remained in a medically induced coma for more than three months.
While he has several surgeries ahead of him, Johnson is thankful to be alive, and received one of the loudest ovations of the evening. "I want to thank you for helping me and giving me another chance at life, especially the EMTs," he said. "I call this scar on my neck my beauty scar. You guys gave me another chance at life."
Stories of other patients who were honored are detailed on the TMC News website.
Mattox noted that while sports stadiums, churches, schools, banks, nightclubs, and entertainment centers are closed 70 percent of the time, ambulance teams, the Houston Fire Department, Ben Taub Hospital, and LBJ Hospital are doing life-saving work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
"You have an expectation that if you call our name, like Michael Jackson, 'We'll be there,' " Mattox said. "And we will."