On Thursday, August 10, 2023, our Elvis Presley Trauma Center celebrates 40 years of providing lifesaving care to patients from all over the Mid-South.
As the only Level-One Trauma Center in a 150 mile radius of Memphis, our facility plays a critical role in protecting the health and welfare of our community.
While we look back on 40 years of exceptional medical care, we also plan for a future where trauma service will be increasingly important as our community grows.
As a young physician starting his trauma surgery fellowship, Timothy Fabian, MD fell in love with the idea of being able to heal patients who otherwise would not survive. It changed not only the trajectory of Dr. Fabian’s career, but the lives of thousands of Mid-South families.
After completing his training, Dr. Fabian was recruited to Memphis in 1980 to build a world-class trauma center. The Elvis Presley Trauma Center opened three years later, and Dr. Fabian began building something more: a legacy of lifesaving care for tens of thousands of patients.
Martin Croce, former trauma center medical director and current Chief Medical Officer, noted, “I would wager there is not one person in this region who hasn’t been impacted by what Dr. Fabian built, either themselves or through a relative or a friend.”
On August 10, 2023, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center at Regional One Health celebrates its 40th anniversary as the Mid-South’s only Level-1 Trauma Center, serving a 150-mile radius that includes parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri.
Today, it is one of the busiest trauma centers in the country, caring for 12,000 patients annually. In the years to come, it will continue to meet the needs of a growing number of patients while also serving as a leader in education, research and innovation in the field of trauma care.
From the ground up
But before all that could happen, the trauma center had to go from vision to reality.
When Dr. Fabian first visited Memphis, the facility was nothing more than a hole in the ground – and he quickly learned that physical construction wasn’t his only challenge. He also had to convince an at-times skeptical public that the massive project was necessary.
At the time, trauma was just starting to gain recognition as a medical specialty, and there were few trauma centers outside of a handful of the largest urban hospitals.
That meant patients with the most serious injuries often didn’t get the care they needed. Many didn’t survive, and those who did often lived with permanent disability.
Dr. Fabian worked tirelessly to educate the community and advocate for a Level-1 Trauma Center in the heart of Memphis, making the case based on a sobering reality: patients who do not receive specialized trauma care within 60 minutes of their injury are much less likely to live.
Advocacy and expertise
Along with being the Elvis Presley Trauma Center’s most powerful advocate, Dr. Fabian was the pioneer of its design and methodology, which remains the gold standard today.
At the trauma center, a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, trauma nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, nurses, respiratory therapists, orderlies, x-ray techs, lab techs, medical students, etc. is ready 24/7 to mobilize immediately.
They work in a facility that puts critical care assessment, blood bank facilities, shock trauma rooms and operating rooms in one central area to provide comprehensive acute care resources. Onsite recovery, intensive care, step-down and post-trauma areas ensure patients’ needs are met from the second they enter the emergency room until they leave the hospital.
Chief of Trauma Andy Kerwin, MD noted, “It’s a unique setup that only exists in a few places in the country, where it’s all contained in the same area. That allows for great transitions of care as we move our patients through the system.”
The design and expertise allow for a systematic approach, which is crucial when caring for a large volume of patients who present with an extremely diverse range of life-threatening injuries.
“On a busy day, it’s not uncommon to see 15-20 shock trauma ones, which is our highest level of trauma activation,” said Trauma Medical Director Peter Fischer, MD.
“That can be a mix of gunshot wounds, stab wounds, car accidents, falls, and a tractor that rolled over somebody in a rural environment.”
40 years of hope and healing
In fact, since its opening, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center has cared for over 100,000 patients. Even though these patients arrive with the most complex, critical injuries, 97 percent survive.
The trauma center also plays a key role in training a new generation of providers to serve our region for generations to come, with over 50 percent of the physicians in the state of Tennessee receiving at least part of their training at Regional One Health.
But the most powerful evidence of the trauma center’s impact lies outside the statistics.
It is in stories like Haley McCommon, who was just 19 when she was critically hurt in an ATV accident. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” she said.
Or Geoffrey Yoste, who almost died when he suffered a skull fracture in a skateboard accident: “Having a Level-One Trauma Center in Memphis saved my life. I’m extremely blessed.”
Or David Cummings, who experienced life-threatening bleeding after he was hit by a car while jogging: “That should have been my final day, but instead it was the beginning of a new day.”
Haley, Geoffrey and David are here today thanks to the Elvis Presley Trauma Center, as are tens of thousands more patients who got a second chance thanks to having the highest level of trauma care available in our community.
Now, the trauma center looks toward a future that will bring an increasing number of critically injured patients through its doors.
Even as our service area’s population grows and rates of traumatic injury increase, state trauma funding falls. Rural hospitals are closing and more patients are being diverted to the Elvis Presley Trauma Center, which was built to serve half the volume it already receives.
Regional One Health is actively pursuing opportunities to expand and modernize the facility to continue to meet the needs of our community.
The ONE Campus initiative, with public funding backed by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and the Shelby County Commission, lays out a vision to transform Regional One Health into an expanded, state-of-the-art medical campus. Meanwhile, the Regional One Health Foundation is working with donors to enhance technology, recruitment, educational programs and research.
“Even as we celebrate 40 years of exceptional trauma care, it is essential to keep planning for the future and how we will meet the growing need for critical care,” said President and CEO Reginald Coopwood, MD. “The Elvis Presley Trauma Center has been there in our community’s times of need for four decades. We look forward to continuing to always serve as a place of hope and healing for Mid-South families.”