CUMC is only the second hospital in the United States to receive certification in orthopedic trauma from the Joint Commission
Alex Deegan says he knew better than to let his guard down. He also knew not to ride his four-wheeler without a helmet.
But the 19-year-old went riding anyway with his friend Chris Merrick on a Saturday afternoon in Bellevue. Alex doesn't remember what happened, but he thinks he rode through some brush, unaware that there was a creek 15 feet below on the other side. His friend tells him he went flying over the front as he and his all-terrain vehicle headed for the creek. Alex hit a drain pipe, his ATV ended up in the water.
Chris feared his friend was dead and was in a panic. He called his sister, who called 911. That call led to the Life Net medical helicopter rushing Alex to Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center. The trauma team went to work. His femur was shattered, his wrist broken, his skull fractured and his kidney and spleen lacerated.
Alex knows he's lucky: "I went to sleep in a dream and woke up to all this." He doesn't remember the accident, the helicopter flight, or his early hours at CUMC. He woke up in intensive care. He thinks his instinct to bail from the ATV when it went over the edge is what saved him from even worse injuries: "My first instinct was to get off. I'm lucky I did." But his mom thinks his "Guardian Angel" was watching over him that afternoon. She says if he'd landed differently, he could have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Alex has been riding dirt bikes, three- and four-wheelers since he was about five or six years old. Except for minor bumps and bruises, he's never been injured riding. His older brother, on the other hand, has been injured dozens of times. He's Brian Deegan, a professional Freestyle Motocross rider. He was the first ever to do a 360 in competition and is the most decorated Freestyle Motocross rider in X Games history.
So Alex grew up knowing all about safety: "I was stupid not having my gear on in the first place. I shouldn't have let my guard down."
The statistics show many Americans are "letting their guard down." The latest numbers show 700 people die every year and an estimated 136,000 end up in the emergency room, many of them in the trauma bay. Head and spine trauma from the accidents cost billions every year, yet ATVs have never been more popular.
Karl Bergmann, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who handles many of CUMC's trauma cases, is all too familiar with ATV injuries. He's handled more than two dozen patients who were injured while riding ATVs and describes Alex's case as "basically a pretty typical ATV accident" because of his multiple injuries.
"It's the same thing as a motorcycle basically: people get up to high speeds on these things." Dr. Bergmann operated on Alex, putting a titanium rod in his leg, and is waiting to see how Alex's wrist heals.
Alex isn't taking any chances next time—and he does intend to go back to riding. He says don't ride alone—having his friend along got him immediate help—and always carry a cell phone in case of emergency. "Don't ever get a big head thinking it can't happen to you. I was a little careless, figuring I'll be fine."
He thanks the doctors and nurses who took care of him, saying everyone was "really good" about making sure he was comfortable and "they were always willing to answer all my questions." Still, after 10 days in a hospital bed, he's thrilled to be going home. He intends to go back to the creek and see exactly what went wrong: "I would never have expected all this. It doesn't matter how good you are. I could have been this close to saying goodbye."