Shock Trauma Center Celebrates 85 Heroes Who Provided Lifesaving Care To Two Critically Injured Patients
Monday, November 20, 2023
Scott D. Spitnale, of Keedysville, and Ellen F. Lightman, of Pikesville, were complete strangers from opposite sides of the state. Near-death experiences, however, brought them together Saturday night in celebration of the 85 trauma professionals and first responders who saved their lives.
Spitnale and Lightman each battled back from massive blood loss, multiple fractures, and other life-threatening injuries. Their survival is the result of the exceptional care they received at the R Adams Shock Trauma Center, Maryland’s highest-level trauma center and heart of the unique, highly coordinated statewide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system.
The doctors, nurses and other medical professionals from Shock Trauma and the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute were honored at this year’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center Celebration, along with members of the Baltimore County Fire Department, 911 centers in Baltimore and Washington counties, EMS in Washington and Frederick counties, and the Maryland State Police Aviation Command.
The theme of this year’s celebration, One Maryland, One Shock Trauma, captures the remarkable collaboration between Shock Trauma and its EMS partners throughout the state.
“One of my greatest privileges is having the opportunity to work alongside our extraordinary trauma care teams and our remarkable partners within Maryland’s EMS system,” said Thomas M. Scalea, MD, Shock Trauma’s Physician-in-Chief and the Honorable Francis X. Kelly Distinguished Professor of Trauma Surgery and Director of the Program in Trauma at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). “Every day, these courageous men and women navigate unique and complex challenges. They do so without hesitation and at times, even risking their own health and wellbeing to save the life of another.”
The sharing of Spitnale’s and Lightman’s stories at the event illuminated the impact this lifesaving network makes on people throughout the state.
“I Was Thankful I Am Alive”
An every day trip to the grocery store turned deadly for Spitnale, when a car struck him head on. He sustained massive blood loss and suffered a fractured pelvis, ruptured diaphragm, mangled right leg and a spinal cord injury after he being thrown 80 feet in a motorcycle crash at Md. Rte. 67 and Garretts Mill Road in Knoxville in June 2021.
His injuries were so severe that his wife was brought to the scene before he was airlifted to Shock Trauma. “I wanted her to have that opportunity to at least say goodbye,” said Keli Smith, Washington County EMS supervisor.
Spitnale arrived pale and in deep shock with an irregular heartbeat and rapid breathing, said David T. Efron, MD, the Chief of Trauma and Shock Trauma’s Medical Director. The team quickly assessed his injuries and started a massive blood transfusion protocol.
“We elected to place a balloon into his aorta to actually control the potential blood loss and give us an opportunity to make plans for the operating room,” said Dr. Efron, who is also the Thomas M. Scalea, Distinguished Professor of Trauma at UMSOM.
Surgeons repaired Spitnale’s fractured pelvis and torn diaphragm, which had caused organs to shift, creating enormous pressure on his heart. Spitnale’ devastating spinal injury left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Doctors worked to save his mangled leg, but it soon proved to be a liability; and they were forced to amputate it at the knee. “You have to make the decision—you know it’s life vs. limb,” said Marcus F. Sciadini, MD, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon and a professor of trauma at UMSOM.
“Once I really realized what had happened, I was not devastated,” said Spitnale, a military veteran who served in the U.S. Special Forces and was award a Bronze Star. “I was thankful that I am alive.”
He spent 31 days at Shock Trauma, enduring more than 17 procedures, before being transferred to UM Rehab & Ortho, where he pushed through several weeks of physical therapy. Staff members described him as mentally strong, tough and determined to recover from his injuries despite extreme pain.
Spitnale continues to receive physical therapy at his home and has been able to take some steps with assistance. “The progress that he has made is tremendous,” his wife, Laura, said. “We are really hoping, and I really believe, that there is more walking to be had; there’s more progress to be made.”
For his part, Spitnale said, he thanks God each day he wakes up, “blessed to have landed on the roof of that hospital on that day in June. Truly.”
“Her Recovery Has Been Full of Miracles”
Lightman, a retired clinical social worker who has been active in her synagogue and other Jewish organizations in the Baltimore area, also received multiple traumatic injuries, including a fractured spine, ribs and pelvis; collapsed lungs; and bleeding in her brain, lungs and pelvis after being struck by a car in June 2022. Witnesses said she was thrown onto the hood and roof of the car and landed on the street in the middle of the intersection at Greenspring and Smith avenues in Pikesville. The driver fled the scene.
“Ms. Lightman got here terribly injured, in profound hemorrhagic shock with injuries to her chest, to her pelvis, to her spine and losing blood from many, many areas,” Dr. Scalea said.
She received blood transfusions, and doctors discovered that in addition to her many injuries, she also had a problem with a heart valve. “She was not doing very well. Her heart really wasn’t working at all, and her lungs weren’t working, and that’s a bad combination,” the physician-in-chief recounted.
As a last resort, Lightman was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. “I had some complicated conversations with her family because it was not clear to me that we were going to get her through this,” Dr. Scalea said.
Lightman spent a month at Shock Trauma, where she also underwent open-heart surgery to replace her faulty heart valve. She made “tremendous progress” before being discharged to her home to continue home and outpatient therapy, said Jason S. Adams, DPT, a physical therapist.
“Age is always a factor in deconditioning and recovery through a critical illness like this,” Dr. Adams added. “Luckily, Ellen is somebody who is extremely active. She was always pushing to do more and wanted to just going, keep pushing, to keep getting back to her normal. You knew that she was going to kick this thing in the butt.”
Lightman said that surviving such devastating injuries has caused her to “appreciate the simplest things. … Life is great, and I am happy,” she shared. “I would not be here had it not been first for the ambulance [crew] and the paramedics who helped me and then everybody at Shock Trauma led by Dr. Scalea. It’s an extraordinary experience to be here to laud their efforts worldwide.”
Her husband, Noah Lightman, MD, said, “Her recovery has been full of miracles, one of which that day they took her to Shock Trauma. They did not take her to the nearest hospital. And that’s what we owe her life to.”
Maryland’s trauma/EMS system is unparalleled and doesn’t exist anywhere else in the United States, Dr. Scalea noted. “It is the organization of the system, plus the beautiful, dedicated resource that is the Shock Trauma Center that allows people like this to live,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that in many places, neither of them would have lived.”
If you would like to support the lifesaving care provided by our incredible teams at Shock Trauma, visit www.ummsfoundation.org/giving_stc.