The Calm in the Storm

January 2, 2019

Thanks to expert trauma care, an East Rutherford man survives life-threatening injuries after a fall.

Early one morning in November 2017, Thomas Woodbury, 72, of East Rutherford stepped out for one of his usual long walks and a haircut. When Thomas was halfway home, he tripped on a curb and was badly injured. A bystander called 911, and a responding police officer saw that Thomas’ face was swollen and his head was bleeding heavily. Thomas complained of severe neck pain. Paramedics rushed him to Hackensack University Medical Center.

Thomas was alert when he arrived at the Emergency Department (ED). The ED team thoroughly evaluated him, and imaging tests showed that Thomas, who has an inflammatory condition that affects his spine, had fractured his neck. Quickly, the ED staff mobilized the trauma team, which in turn called for an orthopedic specialist. Next, orthopedic surgeon William Long III, M.D., examined Thomas and, anticipating the patient would need surgery, ordered additional imaging tests. But that plan changed quickly.

The fracture in Thomas’ neck and surrounding tissues started to bleed heavily, putting pressure on Thomas’ windpipe so he was unable to breathe. His heart stopped. Sanjeev Kaul, M.D., FACS, chief of Trauma Surgery at Hackensack, performed an emergency procedure to open up Thomas’ windpipe to help him breathe while other members of the trauma team worked to revive him.

Fortunately, after three minutes, they succeeded. “At that point the trauma team, under the care of Dr. Kaul, really stepped in and saved Mr. Woodbury’s life,” Dr. Long says.

But Thomas wasn’t out of danger yet. His unstable broken neck was compressing his spinal cord, sending him into a type of shock that causes dangerously low blood pressure. And he was bleeding again — from his mouth and nose.

As Thomas was prepped for emergency surgery, the team consulted with ear, nose and throat specialist Brian Benson, M.D., about the best way to control his bleeding and maximize his safety during the procedure. In the operating room, Dr. Long partnered with neurosurgeon Mohammed Faraz Khan, M.D., co-chief of the Head and Neck Division at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, to treat Thomas’ broken neck and decompress and stabilize his spine.

“Mr. Woodbury’s story highlights the multidisciplinary approach and excellent care we provide to the community on a daily basis,” Dr. Long says. “The Emergency Department, Trauma Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Neurological Surgery, ENT Surgery, Anesthesia and Radiology all played integral parts in his care and recovery.”

“The multitude of super-specialized surgeons and support staff assembled at Hackensack allows the highest level of care to be rendered with ease for any complex or challenging cases, like Mr. Woodbury’s,” says Dr. Khan. “He was at the right place and, fortunately, did well.”

Thomas, a retired electronic technician, spent about a month at Hackensack, followed by two months at a rehabilitation facility. Today he is doing well. He tries to stay active by using his stationary recumbent bike, doing chores and cooking at home.

Thomas knows he’s fortunate. “Dr. Long told me I used up eight of my nine lives,” he says. “I’d like to thank the Good Samaratin who helped me, Patrolman Ryan Micci of the East Rutherford Police Department, the EMS team and, of course, the trauma team at Hackensack.”

Thomas’ daughter, Linda Cubby of Glen Rock, praises Thomas’ medical team. Thomas’ wife, Sun Yong, was recovering from pneumonia and unable to go to the hospital, so Linda monitored her father’s condition and care.

“Dr. Long, the trauma team and nurses, the staff in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit — they all did such a great job, even helping to keep me calm and reassure me,” Linda says. “The professionalism everyone showed was wonderful. When my father woke up, he was unable to talk. They would find paper or pictures we could use to communicate, just to make it a little easier. If it wasn’t for the doctors and nurses at Hackensack, my father wouldn’t be alive today. Thank God we had a very good support system.”

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