When 34-year-old dental hygienist Edyta Regnowski went boating with friends last summer, she envisioned an afternoon spent water-skiing. She ended up losing her right leg.
Ms. Regnowski was in shallow water and in the process of anchoring the boat. When the driver accidentally put the boat in reverse, her right leg got caught in the spinning propeller.
“We were told by EMS [emergency medical services] that it took a while to free her leg from the propeller blades,” said Josh Nogar, MD, an emergency medicine attending physician and medical toxicologist at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH). “Imagine trying to safely pry a leg out of a huge blender. Her injury was complicated, and blood loss was massive. She was in pretty bad shape when she arrived to the Emergency Department.”
The Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau and the Nassau County Police Aviation Unit worked in unison to free her and flew her to the only American College of Surgeons-verified Level I Trauma Center on Long Island.
On the Move
While Ms. Regnowski was en route, NSUH’s trauma team already had a plan in motion in the Emergency Department and the operating room.
“I remember a young woman, still in her bathing suit, who was in and out of consciousness,” said Maria Georgiades, MD, an attending trauma surgeon at NSUH who was on duty that day. “We secured her airway, initiated our massive blood transfusion protocol and tried everything to save her leg, even calling in the vascular team to first put her vessels back together.”
“Ms. Regnowski was very, very seriously injured,” said Matthew Bank, MD, trauma medical director for NSUH. “Being flown to a Level I Trauma Center undoubtedly contributed to her survival.”
During the first few days in the Intensive Care Unit, the trauma team attempted to rid Ms. Regnowski’s leg of infection caused from contact with the ocean water and propeller blades.
“She needed clean tissue, but the infection was too overwhelming,” Dr. Georgiades said. “We eventually had no choice but to call in the orthopedic surgeon to amputate her right leg at the hip. Her last surgery involved a skin graft, moving tissue from her left leg to her right.”
During over two months at NSUH, Ms. Regnowski underwent more than 20 surgeries. Her brother, Lukas, flew in from Poland to keep her company for six months.
“My brother stayed by my side at the hospital and helped me transition back to apartment living,” Ms. Regnowski said. “Once he left, my mom flew in. Everyone supported me through my transition to this new life, friends and neighbors included.”
The Right Decision
The Trauma Center at NUSH admits more than 2,200 patients per year. “Our partnership with the Nassau County Police Department is critical to our success as a trauma center,” said David Brody, who worked for years to expand trauma services at NSUH and now serves as Northwell’s vice president of cardiothoracic surgery services. “In Edyta Regnowski’s case, many organizations worked together to see that she made it to our helipad. We took on her care from there.”
Emergency medical services (EMS) didn’t choose NSUH simply because of proximity.
“The EMS helicopter flew over several other hospitals to bring Ms. Regnowski to North Shore. The extra five minutes were worth it, since other centers would have had to transfer her to us anyway,” said Dr. Bank. “The system worked for Ms. Regnowski. It saved her life.”
Life After Trauma
“It could have been any of us,” Dr. Georgiades said. “But Edyta was meant to survive. We may have saved her life, but she fought just as hard as we did to hold on.”
Ms. Regnowski now walks with a prosthetic leg and is taking life one day at a time. Her recovery is a testament to the NSUH Trauma Center.
“If I had arrived at the hospital 10 minutes later, I don’t think I’d be here talking about it,” Ms. Regnowski said. “I lost part of me, but I’m still here — that’s what matters.”
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