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Stanford trauma team saves boy’s hand — and his life

Last October, then-10-year-old Elijah Olivas was thrown from a moving vehicle in a bad accident. He had serious head injuries and his right arm was severed at the wrist. When the trauma team at Stanford's emergency department learned that Elijah was being helicoptered their way from central California, they immediately began preparing to help him. They wanted to try to reattach his hand, and knew that operation's chances of success hinged on getting started soon. And yet they could not put life before limb.

In a story I wrote about Elijah's care, two of his doctors explained the challenge:

"We knew that when Elijah arrived, we’d need to get him to the operating room as quickly as possible but also as safely as possible," said orthopedic surgeon Garet Comer, MD, one of several dozen experts from the level-1-certified pediatric trauma team who cared for Elijah.

"Elijah had a potentially life-threatening cranial injury, and we had to ensure that there were no other life-threatening bodily injuries before taking him to the operating room," said pediatric neurosurgeon Samuel Cheshier, MD, PhD. "It was incredibly important because being thrown from a car could have caused a severe bowel or aortic injury, for instance."

Ultimately, it took a massive, precisely coordinated effort by dozens of experts from all over Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford to help Elijah survive the first 24 hours after the accident. He needed a fast, comprehensive assessment and prioritization of all of his injuries, followed by about 20 hours of surgery to reattach his hand, drain fluid from his lungs, evacuate blood from the space around his brain and repair his large skull fracture.

After the successful surgeries, Elijah was hospitalized at Packard Children's for nearly a month, then transferred to another facility for more help with rehabilitating his hand. Since late January, he's been back at home in Santa Maria, California, where he is still working to regain motion in his hand and adapt to life after the crash. But, his success this far, is worth celebrating, team members say:

“Elijah was very fortunate that Stanford has all the technical know-how and physical resources to coordinate a successful response to his  life-threatening injuries,” Cheshier said. “Not many hospitals can handle this level of trauma in a pediatric patient.”

Previously: Insurance status might perversely affect the kind of trauma care you get: Stanford study, Teen benefited by Stanford surgeon's passion for trauma care and A young child, a falling cabinet and a Life Flight rescue
Photo by Jason Olivas

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