Toni Clemens often tells the story of her December 2021 traumatic pedestrian motor vehicle accident. She shares details of how a pickup truck went through a stop sign and ran her over as she was taking her nightly walk around her Lindenhurst neighborhood with her sister, Donna Newman Beck. Donna, who was hit in this accident as well, although not as seriously, was able to give Toni’s cell phone to the police officer who responded to the accident so that he could notify her family. She speaks to how the officer mistakenly called Toni’s son instead of her husband because they are both named Robert. As they loaded her into the ambulance, she said: “I don’t want to die. I have grandchildren.”
While she shares the details of this terrible accident, she does so by repeating what her family and friends have told her. She has no memory of the accident nor any of the next two months that she spent in a coma in Good Samaritan University Hospital’s surgical intensive care unit (SICU). SICU is the dedicated trauma unit for critical care trauma patients. Her family stayed vigilantly by her side as she made what many consider a miraculous recovery from grave injuries that included a shattered pelvis, lacerated bladder and spleen, multiple fractured ribs, fractured right scapula and left clavicle, and internal bleeding.
The severity of Toni’s injuries required the skills and expertise of a team of trauma specialists who staff Good Samaritan and were an integral part of the verification/survey process that led to our being named a Level I Adult Trauma Center. Toni arrived in Good Samaritan’s Emergency Department (ED) as a “Code T”—the highest level trauma. There, a chest tube was immediately placed, she was intubated and placed on a ventilator for airway support, and she was rushed to the operating room.
Over the next 82 days at Good Samaritan, Toni underwent 11 surgical procedures and received 52 blood transfusions. Her care team included multidisciplinary specialists in trauma, critical care, orthopedics, neurosurgery, interventional radiology, urology, thoracic surgery, gastroenterology, gynecology, endocrinology and infectious diseases. For nearly three months, the doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists, pastoral care staff and other professionals on the trauma team worked seamlessly to coordinate the complex care she needed to survive.
Initially, the biggest concern for the trauma team was internal bleeding. On the night of the accident, surgeon Way Lee, MD performed emergency exploratory abdominal surgery to try to pinpoint the source of the bleeding. The next day, trauma surgeon Richard Bagdonas, MD, performed a second exploratory surgery. Later that day, Dr. Bagdonas worked with interventional radiologist Alan Boykin, MD, to perform an embolization of Toni’s iliac artery. This procedure attempts to stop hemorrhaging by blocking the flow of blood through one of the major arteries supplying blood to the lower extremities.
Over the next week, Toni would undergo another exploratory surgery, have a blood clot removed, and have filters placed in her arteries to prevent other blood clots from traveling. Once the bleeding stopped and she was stable enough, thoracic surgeon Mark Genovesi, MD, used titanium plates and screws to stabilize Toni’s broken ribs. On December 23, two weeks after the accident, orthopedic surgeon John Cuellar, MD, took Toni to the operating room where he used plates and screws to put her shattered pelvis back together. The following week, Abenamar Arrillaga, MD, Assistant Director of Trauma and Director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) at Good Samaritan, together with surgeon Jose Diaz, DO, surgically created a tracheostomy and inserted a feeding tube to support Toni as she slowly continued to heal.
Throughout the following two months, Toni’s three adult children, husband and siblings maintained a constant vigil at the hospital. They praised the care and compassion the entire staff extended not only to her, but to her family, who were permitted to stay with her around the clock. “I was never alone,” she said.
Her own memories began to surface on February 11, when she emerged from the coma.
“When I woke up, the nurses, the doctors, everyone was so wonderful,” Toni said. “I had an angel up there looking over me. The nuns and priests that came in to see me were phenomenal. The staff who would come in to clean my room would ask how I was and tell me I was looking so much better.”
On March 1, 2022, Toni was discharged from Good Samaritan to a rehabilitation facility, where she spent the next month. She returned home in April and continues to receives physical therapy twice a week as her recovery continues.
Despite having raised her family in Copiague before moving to Lindenhurst, she had very little first-hand experience with Good Samaritan prior to her accident. Unfortunately, since then, she has been back several times for various medical issues including kidney stones and Covid-19. Each time she comes back, she encounters staff members who cared for her after the accident, and they are thrilled to see her progress.
When Toni came to the Emergency Department with kidney stones, urologist Aaron Woodall, MD, recognized her. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I took care of you when the accident occurred. You are our Christmas miracle. Can I give you a hug?”
Toni’s life has changed dramatically since that fateful day in December 2021. Now 60 years old, she had to retire from her job as a teaching assistant in Copiague. She still has numbness in her fingers and can’t fully lift her arm. However, she is proud that her photo is prominently displayed on the wall of survivors in Good Samaritan’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit. She is back to having daily calls with her 7-year-old grandson, spending time with her family and planning for a future that was once uncertain.
“I cannot say enough about Good Sam,” she said. “I am most thankful that I will see my grandchildren go to college and get married. I have a lot more to live for. I get to grow old with my husband and Good Sam made that possible.”