High School Athlete Thrives After Recovery From Near-fatal Trauma
July 28, 2004
Almost two years after nearly dying in a car accident, Elissa Jaime is preparing for her freshman year at SUNY College at Brockport, with a Section 5 swimming championship and a high school diploma already under her belt. Those are impressive feats, especially for a teen who, for 21 days in the winter of 2002, was on the brink of death in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, recovering from a crushed pelvis and severe damage to vital organs.
“We'd never felt such helplessness, but that was balanced by our faith that
God's incredible medical team would keep Elissa with us and give her hope
for a meaningful future,” says Nancy Jaime, Elissa’s mother, who is now proudly helping to prepare her daughter for the next step in her education.
Nancy’s pride in her daughter is augmented by the knowledge that she is not only a high school graduate headed to college, but a survivor. Elissa survived a car crash just a few miles from her home in Scottsville on November 30, 2002 where the vehicle she was riding in lost control on an icy curve and was struck in the passenger side by an oncoming car.
Elissa’s right hip and pelvis were pulverized in the crash, and she sustained severe damage to her lungs, liver and bladder. She also lost a great deal of blood. After being rushed to the emergency department on the night of the accident, Elissa underwent exploratory surgery to determine the cause of the blood loss. John Gorczyca, M.D., an orthopaedic trauma surgeon, rebuilt her hip and pelvis a few days later. Elissa lost over a gallon of blood during this surgery.
“She arrived with about a 50 percent mortality rate. Our strategy was first to keep her alive, second to fix her injuries so that she could begin to heal, and third to provide her therapy to re-educate her in how to walk and perform simple activities,” says Gorczyca. “We never expected her to regain her athletic abilities.”
Elissa and her family realize she would not be alive today without the total team effort of Strong’s specialized units. During her stay, she was cared for by the emergency department team, the Critical Care team, the Surgical Trauma team, and the orthopaedic trauma team.
When it was clear that Elissa would survive, the question became: would she ever play sports again? To the multi-sport athlete, so passionate about swimming and soccer, the idea of not being able to participate was devastating. She focused on the positive during three months of grueling rehabilitation, and eventually regained her strength and agility with the help of another team, the specialists at University Sports Medicine.
After three months of physical therapy, Elissa could put weight on her leg. The rehab was an exhausting, but worthwhile ritual for the determined teen. “I really wanted to swim and play soccer my senior year,” she says. “It was frustrating at times, but seeing my improvement kept me going toward my goal of being able to return to sports in the fall.”
In August 2003, just nine months since her accident, Elissa practiced with her soccer team, and was selected as captain that fall. In November, she started swimming again, a milestone achievement for her during her senior year. “I was so excited to get back in the pool again,” she says.
In February 2004, after more than a year of agonizing rehab, Elissa’s swim team from Wheatland-Chili High School won the Genesee Regional Championship and the Section 5 Class D title. It was the school’s first swimming title in more than two decades of sectional competition. Elissa herself was named to the Genesee Region All Star team.
“Nobody expected her to graduate from high school on time and to compete in sports. Her progress inspires us (her care providers) to aim for excellence with each and every patient,” said Gorczyca, who cited Elissa’s results among the best of over 400 similar surgeries he has performed.
This summer, Elissa is keeping her swimming skills sharp, working as a lifeguard in Henrietta. She also maintains her strength by visiting the gym four to five times a week. She is gearing up for Brockport in the fall, where she will major in athletic training, a decision that was influenced by her accident and recovery. “It made me realize how much I like athletic training, and how I would be able to help people with it,” she says.
Although her care at Strong is what allowed Elissa to survive, Gorczyca says, “her personal commitment to excellence and her family support were the factors that have allowed her to excel as she has.”