The Elvis Presley Trauma Center, designated as a Level 1 Trauma Center in the states of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas has saved tens of thousands of lives in its 32 years.

No two days are ever quite the same for Dr. Martin Croce, medical director of the Elvis Presley Trauma Center at Regional One Health. As head of one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, he deals with a multitude of life-threatening injuries resulting from car accidents to falls.

Dr. Croce recalled one of his most memorable cases involving a skydiving accident. “It’s not often we see victims of skydiving accidents. As you can imagine, after falling some 14,000 feet when his parachute malfunctioned, Steve Helffrich suffered extensive injuries. It was imperative that he receive urgent treatment.

The trauma system (rapid transport) and trauma center (treatment of injuries) saved his life.”

“When a traumatic injury occurs, there is a finite amount of time to save a life,” Dr. Croce continued. “Before trauma centers were available, people went to the nearest emergency room and many died who shouldn’t have. Researchers found that deaths caused by traumatic injuries usually occurred within the first hour.”

This hour is known as the “Golden Hour.” The trauma care provided in this critical 60 minutes can mean the difference between life and death for nearly 5,000 Mid-South patients each year. Traumatic accidents can happen in the blink of an eye and quickly change the course of your life. If you or your family members are critically injured, you have access to some of the best care available in this country within a matter of minutes. As families like the Helffrichs have learned, if your life is on the line, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center means hope.

“Before Steve’s accident, I never really thought about or appreciated what it means to have a Level 1 Trauma Center in Memphis,” Jennifer Helffrich said. “Without this level of care, my husband would not be alive today. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dr. Croce and the amazing trauma team at Regional One Health saved my husband’s life.”

Upon arrival, patients like Steve are met at the door by a team of the region’s best surgeons, respiratory therapy specialists, X-ray technicians, nurses and more. The specialized surgical team includes highly trained trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, burn and plastic surgeons who are all available 24/7.

“Our Trauma Center is uniquely designed to ensure the best possible outcome,” Dr. Croce said. “We can quickly establish a diagnosis and our operating rooms are only 50 feet away from the evaluation rooms.”

As many trauma care specialists know, the extra minutes it takes for an elevator ride to an operating room on another floor could be the critical difference between life and death.

“Our goal is to know exactly what we are going to do within an hour of their arrival,” continued Dr. Croce. “They are either in an operating room or the intensive care unit within that time.”

Three Decades: Tens of Thousands of Lives Saved

Before 1983, there was no real trauma care available for critically injured patients in the Memphis area. They were taken to the nearest hospital emergency room where the specialized care needed to save their lives or prevent permanent disability was not available.

That changed in 1983 with the opening of the Elvis Presley Trauma Center in the heart of downtown Memphis. During the ‘80s, a trauma center was a new concept to most people. This unique level of sophisticated care took a bit of explaining.

Dr. Timothy Fabian was one of the driving forces behind organizing the center and educating the community about its need. Dr. Fabian, an international expert on trauma care and research, is still an active member of the center’s medical team. He is also a past chair of the National Trauma Institute, a well respected and widely recognized research-focused organization.

In the more than 30 years since the Trauma Center’s founding, Dr. Fabian said one aspect stands out above all other accolades – the sheer number of lives saved.

A Truly Unique Level of Care

The level of care patients receive at the Elvis Presley Trauma Center is unparalleled. Each patient gets the full attention of a team of talented surgeons and medical professionals who specialize in trauma care. The design of the Trauma Center puts everything in one centralized area. Everything needed to save lives is within a few feet – a blood bank, shock trauma rooms and operating rooms. When minutes can mean the difference between life and death, it’s vital to have it all right there.

As one would expect, providing this level of care does not come without a cost. On average, the Trauma Center requires more than $100,000 a day to operate. The generosity of our supporters helps make the level of care needed to save countless lives, like Steve’s, possible each day.

The Elvis Presley Trauma Center is the third-busiest trauma center in the country, seeing over 12,000 patients each year. Of those, about 80 percent are treated for blunt trauma such as car accidents or falls. The other 20 percent receive treatment for penetrating trauma such as gunshot or stab wounds.

The Elvis Presley Trauma Center also stands out among other trauma centers across the country for its level of care. The National Trauma Database Registry contains information submitted by most of the trauma centers in the United States, accounting for millions of patients. According to this database, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center fares much better than the national average when it comes to mortality and the risk of infections and other complications.

Find out how funding research leads to world-class care and how the Elvis Presley Trauma Center received its name by reading A Higher Level of Care: Part 2.