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Trauma Staff Offers Lifeline for Families

By Alice Reid
Friday, January 18, 2008

Among the many heartfelt notes of gratitude that have come our way along with contributions to Children's Hospital was one that prompted a double take.

"Thank you for saving my granddaughter's life TWICE," it read.

Whoa! A kid who skated close to death not once but twice? A little journalistic sleuthing found the granddaughter, Lindsey Gordon, now 21.

Not only had Children Hospital's rescued her from osteomyelitis, a serious staph infection of the bone, when she was 4, but doctors and nurses there also saved her life after she suffered grave injuries in a car crash in 1995. With a broken leg, ruptured stomach and a hole in her aorta, Lindsey wasn't expected to live. Today, she is a healthy senior at UCLA, close to earning a bachelor's degree in English literature.

"I'm just really grateful," Lindsey said recently by phone, adding that she doesn't remember a whole lot about the experience.

She said her mom still talks about Jean Reardon, who was the family's trauma coordinator, always there to run interference with the half-dozen doctors treating Lindsey, translate medical gobbledygook, and help her and other anxious parents communicate with hospital staff members.

Reardon has gone on to a research project at the hospital, but the role of trauma coordinator still exists, with two nurses handling the duties. A third nurse fills a similar post solely for burn patients. It's all part of the hospital's trauma and burn service division, which also tracks statistics about injuries and treatment.

Youngsters made about 71,000 visits to the emergency room at Children's Hospital last year, and about 12,000 were classified as trauma cases, many of which required surgery and inpatient care. That's when the trauma coordinators become lifelines for families.

Nurse Sarah Storing coordinates patients' time in the emergency room and monitors how quickly staffers there provide treatment. Top-rated trauma centers such as Children's Hospital must demonstrate that they perform at a consistently high level.

"Trauma is related to time," she said. "For instance, they have to insert an IV catheter within five minutes."

Storing also helps parents understand what is going on in the emergency room and encourages them to stay beside their injured children, even holding their hands through difficult procedures.

"Whatever they're comfortable with," she said.

Nurse practitioner Elaine Lamb takes over after a child leaves the emergency room for a hospital bed.

Both women remember a young boy from the West Coast who was visiting the District when he crashed his bike. Serious injuries kept him at Children's Hospital for weeks.

"He had a spinal cord injury; his mouth was wired shut; he had a head injury; and his mom was spending every night at his bedside on a pullout couch with her 9-month-old," said Lamb, who coordinated doctors and therapists and arranged for a West Coast rehabilitation center to admit the boy after he was well enough to travel.

When insurance wouldn't cover the 3,000-mile trip home, Lamb appealed to the hospital's volunteer office, which came up with the money for the boy and his mom to fly first-class so that the boy could recline.

It's all part of the job for today's trauma coordinators at Children's Hospital, as it was more than a dozen years ago when Lindsey Gordon fought for her life there. And it is all part of the family-centered, first-class care provided to area children, regardless of a family's ability to pay.

How to Help

Today we wrap up The Washington Post's campaign to raise money to help cover those unmet costs of treating youngsters at Children's Hospital. Last year, that cost was about $50 million. The $500,000 we've tried to raise here would meet only a tiny fraction of that, but every dollar helps. As of today, readers have sent a total of $299,231.69.

Within the next couple of weeks, we'll provide you with a final tally. Plus we'll list all the groups of friends, neighbors and colleagues who gave collective gifts.

There is still time to contribute, so if you haven't already, please write a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and send it to Washington Post Campaign: P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. Better yet, get together friends or colleagues and send a bigger check.

To donate online, using a credit card go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions. Gifts are tax deductible, as allowed by law.

Thank you!

Washington Post staffer Terrence McArdle and special correspondent Gerri Marmer contributed to this report.

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