Following a rollover ATV accident, Haley McCommon met a group of doctors and nurses who not only saved her life, they inspired her future.
Haley and her mom Casey call them “Haley’s Dream Team,” and they not only helped her survive serious injuries, they did so without introducing her to the danger of opioid dependence.
With the support of the Regional One Health Foundation, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center and Acute Pain Service look to do the same for more patients.
Life can change in an instant.
One minute, you’re a carefree 19-year-old girl, enjoying a summer day. The next, you’re in a hospital 100 miles away with your spine crushed and an incision from emergency surgery running the length of your stomach.
You start asking yourself hard questions: Can I do this? What’s next for me?
In June 2018, Haley McCommon was in a rollover ATV accident. At first, she didn’t know just how badly she was hurt.
“I didn’t have any blood on me,” Haley recalls. “There was no cell service, so we rode 20 minutes back to town to call 911. When the paramedics got there, they said I didn’t have time to ride in an ambulance. They shut down a local highway and dropped a helicopter down.”
She was on her way to Regional One Health’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center.
Haley McCommon had severe internal and spinal cord injuries after a rollover ATV accident. Doctors at the Elvis Presley Trauma Center not only saved her life, they helped her make it through
Thanks to highly-trained specialists, cutting-edge technology and ongoing support from the Regional One Health Foundation, the trauma center treats the most critically-ill patients as the only Level 1 Trauma Center in a 150-mile radius.
Haley was alert the whole time. She recalls pain and fear, but her first memory of Regional One Health is of humanity and compassion: “I remember a nurse with an Ole Miss scrub-cap leaning over me,” she said. “He told me he’d stay with me and he wouldn’t leave me all alone.”
It was Zack Witcher, and he kept his promise, keeping Haley calm until her mom Casey arrived just in time to see her daughter wheeled into surgery: “You see nine of them standing in a U around her, and once the doors to that trauma bay shut, your heart just goes boom,” Casey said.
What Casey and Haley would discover, though, is the trauma team understands that feeling and goes out of their way to comfort patient and family.
They would come to refer to them as “Haley’s Dream Team;” Witcher and fellow trauma nurse Joey Omedeo, anesthesiologists Jerry Jones, MD and Blas Catalani, MD, and others who were at Haley’s side for her entire journey.
Haley met Dr. Jones, director of the Acute Pain Service, three days in. She was on morphine and was struggling with pain, nausea and an opioid haze.
“He took one look at me and said, ‘You’re done with this,’” she recalls. Dr. Jones used continuous peripheral nerve blocks, a procedure he has pioneered to get patients through the acute pain period with few or no opioids.
“She’s a young, healthy girl – the last thing we need to do is expose her to all these narcotics,” Dr. Jones said. “If we can control her pain so she can get up and do rehab without exposing her, that’s what we need to do.”
Haley returned to Regional One Health a year after her accident to thank the doctors and nurses who cared for her. She also revealed some excited news – her experience has inspired her to go to nursing school.
Meanwhile, Omedeo kept Haley’s spirts up with humor and kindness. “We had Joey doing push-ups on the floor to make me laugh;” she said. “He came in and apologized because the day they got me out of bed the first time was his day off, and he wasn’t there to help.”
“Haley’s Dream Team” never made them feel like patients. They made them feel like family.
“You weren’t just doing a job. You laughed with us. You cared about us. You were her team,” Casey told Omedeo and Dr. Jones after she and Haley visited to say thank you.
Haley added, “You were more than a doctor and nurse. It wasn’t just coming in and taking my vitals and giving me medicine. You don’t realize how much that means to people.”
“Haley’s Dream Team” says her experience means just as much to them. “You had the choice to build yourself up and build up those around you,” Omedeo said. “You saw that you can do it and you did it, and that’s so uplifting.”
Dr. Jones added, “You had more than enough opportunity to give up or choose a bad course. You could let this ruin your life or you could learn what strong is. The direction you went, you picked it. It’s you who had to get up, get back on your feet and live your life again.”
Haley admits wondering if she’d be able to do that but then realizing she had no other choice. And today, she is more than living her live – she’s been inspired to lead a life of helping others: “I’m going back to school,” she said. “I decided I want to be a nurse!”
To support the life-saving work of Regional One Health doctors and nurses, visit regionalonehealth.org/foundation.