From Canada to Houston: Life Flight Goes the Distance for a Trauma Patient

MHOSH Transported

Last October while vacationing in Canada, Houston resident Joyce Wells suffered a traumatic fall.  She had been staying in Nova Scotia, Canada, when she was accidentally locked out of her vacation home.  A gust of wind slammed a door shut and, while attempting to climb back into the house through another door, Wells lost her balance and fell to the lower deck of her house. The fall seriously injured her sacral pelvis area and tailbone. She was transported to a local hospital.

After spending almost two weeks in the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Joyce was advised by the doctors there to go on bed rest for two months. Wells typically spends July through October – and three weeks at Christmas – in Nova Scotia.  She was ready to return to Houston and see what the doctors at Memorial Hermann could do for her.

“Once we mentioned Memorial Hermann, the wheels started turning. It turns out that my doctor in Canada had a relationship with Dr. Ken Mathis,” says Joyce Wells.  Dr. Mathis is a UTHealth orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital.

“After much discussion, we decided that instead of two months of bed rest, I could be moved to Houston for surgery and rehab,” adds Wells. “They collaborated on a plan for my transportation.”

In her condition, a flight on a commercial airline was not an option. Wells says hospital officials in Canada were very diligent about finding the best care for her.  Working with a social worker at the QEII Health Sciences Center, Dr. Mathis coordinated with the teams at Memorial Hermann Life Flight® and Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital to arrange for fixed-wing transport via Life Flight.

Known for flying more than 140,000 life-saving helicopter missions since 1976, Life Flight also transports patients via fixed-wing aircraft.   According to Life Flight Administrative Director Eric von Wenckstern, Life Flight has been conducting fixed-wing transports since 1979 and the crew completes approximately 10 to 15 of these transports a year.  “Life Flight has a medical crew on call 24 hours a day to handle cases such as this one, and the crew is ready to leave within two hours of a request, “ says von Wenckstern.

For Joyce Wells, the total transport time was nine hours, from hospital bed to hospital bed.  “During my stay in Canada, I was in a lot of pain and attempted pain management was very difficult,” Wells says. “Once I learned I was going home to Houston, I began to feel more confident, but the pain was constant. The Life Flight nurses assured me that they would deliver me from my bed in Halifax to the new bed in Houston with no pain, and they were right.”

Life Flight transported Wells back to Houston on Oct. 20 and she was admitted to Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital for surgery.

Together, Mark Prasarn, M.D., a UTHealth orthopedic spine surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, and Chip Routt, M.D., a UTHealth orthopedic trauma surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, performed the four-hour surgery to repair the pelvic fractures with screws to support Wells’ back.

Joyce Wells Hospital
Dr. Mark Prasarn checks on Joyce after the surgery.

On Oct. 29, Joyce Wells was moved to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she began inpatient therapy. “We knew that TIRR Memorial Hermann is rated No. 2 in the U.S. for rehabilitation care, so we elected to go there quickly because it was by far the best facility for me,” said Wells.

Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital Vice President of Operations, Ed Tufaro is proud that Memorial Hermann was able to handle all of Wells’ needs as she moves on to recovery.  “This story reflects our ability to manage across the continuum of care – from a fixed-wing pickup in Canada, to highly-specialized orthopedic surgeons, to TIRR Memorial Hermann for the best post-acute rehab care available,” he said. “While most of our patients would not require TIRR’s level of care following surgery, the ability to move seamlessly at each point in her care is what made Joyce’s situation especially unique.”

Joyce Wells
Since being discharged from TIRR Memorial Hermann on Nov. 16, Wells continues to improve daily.

Since being discharged from TIRR Memorial Hermann on Nov. 16, Wells continues to improve daily. She can sit up comfortably and has mastered a walker and a wheelchair. Wells notes that it was a smooth transition between Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital and TIRR Memorial Hermann, and she felt very well taken care of with no additional pain the entire time she was at the two facilities.

And, while Wells may have missed out on a “White Christmas,” she’s hopeful that she’ll soon be traveling again.

“Usually we go to Canada for three weeks and enjoy a wonderful winter holiday – a quiet time with snow outside and fire in the fireplaces; this year, we stayed home while I regained my strength,” she said. “But I’ll definitely be back next Christmas.”

To learn more about these facilities, visit Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital or TIRR Memorial Hermann.

*TIRR is a registered trademark of TIRR Foundation

Tashika Varma