From Trauma Patient to Trauma Nurse in Houston’s Newest Level II Trauma Center: Aletha’s Story

A trauma center can be an emotionally difficult environment for nurses tasked with treating patients who are hurt and distressed, struggling to recover from a tragedy they never saw coming.

For Aletha Savage, RN in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit (SICU) at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, the experience is a bit more personal.  She can relate to her patients’ suffering in a way most caregivers can’t. That’s because 20 years ago, Savage wasn’t a bedside nurse. She was a trauma patient.

After sustaining severe injuries in a car crash in Tomball in 1995, Savage was flown aboard Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (then called Hermann Hospital), where doctors quickly went to work treating the burns to her face and head. Her wounds were so severe, her family refused to let her see a mirror for several days after the incident. Savage, who was then 25, recovered quickly from her injuries and was able to return to her career in sales, but her time in the trauma unit would prove to be a transformative experience that would reshape the rest of her life.

Inspired to Change Careers

When she was laid off from her job and forced to look for a new career, Savage decided to go back to school to become a nurse. Today, Savage, now 47, works at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center where she is part of a team of people who work around-the-clock to help patients heal from severe and devastating traumatic injuries.

“It’s truly a calling,” she said. “I remember what it felt like to be in that bed, hooked up to all these monitors and scared out of your mind. So it’s an honor to be able to serve people by showing compassion and helping them cope with their tragic experiences.”

Advancing Trauma Care Across Greater Houston

Trauma care has evolved significantly since Savage’s fateful car crash two decades ago. The network of high-level trauma care has expanded greatly thanks in large part to Memorial Hermann’s commitment to provide better access to high-quality trauma services across the Greater Houston region. Several years ago, Memorial Herman decided to expand trauma capabilities at two campuses — Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center and Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital — in an effort to bring trauma care closer to where people live, work and play.

Today, the regional trauma infrastructure received another boost when Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center earned official designation as a Level II trauma center, becoming the first such center in The Woodlands and one of only a handful in the region.

What’s Required for a Higher Trauma Designation?

Achieving  a Level II trauma center designation is a rigorous process, which involves multiple steps and additions. Hospitals must have 24-hour availability of a medical team consisting of specially trained healthcare providers who have expertise in the care of severely injured patients. Among the many requirements are intensive trauma education for staff, availability of sub-specialty services like orthopedics, neurosurgery and cardiovascular care, as well as trauma-certified Emergency  Center physicians and rapid access to surgical care. In addition, a hospital must operate as a Level II trauma center for a period of time before final verification can be given. Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center began the process in 2014.

To  expand its trauma capabilities, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center hired additional physicians and employees, added new surgical and intensive care unit beds, installed a second Life Flight helipad on Campus, and added seven treatment rooms and three state-of-the-art trauma rooms to its Emergency Center.

“Expanding our suite of high-level trauma services is really a life-saving decision,” said Josh Urban, SVP and CEO at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands. “We are proud of our abilities to be able to respond to our community’s call for help, even in the most difficult circumstances. With the recent and rapid growth in The Woodlands and surrounding areas, it was critically important to be able to ensure that we had the resources in place to be able to serve our citizens during their times of need.”

A Rewarding Career Helping Trauma Victims

For Savage, the Level II trauma center designation is especially rewarding because she knows first hand just how critical high-level trauma care can be in an emergency situation. She was one of the lucky trauma victims. After they cut her from the wreckage of her car, first responders quickly recognized the severity of her injuries and immediately requested that an air ambulance fly her to the nearest trauma center, which was then a 30-minute flight from Tomball to downtown. She remembers the flight across the darkened sky to then Hermann Hospital, the feel of the gravel imprinted into her skull, and the warm and welcome sight of her trauma surgeon, the legendary Dr. James “Red” Duke, who passed away in 2015. At the time, Dr. Duke assured her and her family that she would be OK. And she was.

Savage knows how hard it is to survive a traumatic experience and how fraught the recovery process can be. And she’s so grateful that she now has a job in a high-level trauma center helping people bounce back from the terrible things that can happen in life.

“It’s beyond rewarding,” she said.

To learn more about Houston’s leading trauma network, click here.

To learn more about all of the services at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, click here.


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Tashika Varma