Teen's recovery from head-on collision 'just incredible'

January 17, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

MYERSVILLE, Md. - Sherrie Jeans seems like most teenagers.

She beams at the mention of her new car. She picks up the phone on the first ring. She likes boys, hanging out with her friends, and looking good.

Barely more than a year ago, the Myersville, Md., teenager lay comatose with multiple, critical injuries in Washington County Hospital after she hit a tree head-on at 50 mph.

Sherrie, 18, wasn't wearing her seat belt when she crashed on Dec. 26, 1998. Although she doesn't remember the circumstances of the crash, authorities have speculated Sherrie may have been distracted by the cell-phone she had received for Christmas a day earlier because it was turned on when they reached the accident scene.


She no longer carries a cell phone.

Sherrie and her mother, Anne Jeans, credited the quick response of Frederick County paramedics and the "incredible team" of health care professionals at Washington County Hospital - where Sherrie spent eight weeks - with saving Sherrie's life and directing her remarkable recovery.

"I don't know how to thank all these people for saving my baby," said Anne Jeans, who kept a detailed journal of Sherrie's progress and hospital experiences from the time her daughter arrived at the hospital's regional trauma center.

The Hagerstown hospital boasts the state's only Level Two trauma center without medical residents in a rural area, and is one of only 10 Level Two trauma centers in the country, said Trauma Director Marc Kross, the trauma surgeon in charge when Sherrie arrived at the hospital.

To be classified as a Level Two trauma center, there must be a trauma surgeon always on-site, and other specialists must be within a 30-minute responding area of the facility, said Neurosurgeon Neal O'Malley, who also handled Sherrie's case.

The teenager's prognosis was "grave" when she arrived at the hospital, and she might have died without the care of trauma center staff members, Kross said.

"People in this community don't realize the infrastructure and facility we have at Washington County Hospital," he said.

The Jeans family does.

"I love that hospital," Sherrie Jeans said.

She doesn't remember anything about the accident, but police reports state the crash occurred at 7:19 p.m. on U.S. 40 at Gambrill Park Road near Frederick, Md.

Sherrie, who was then a senior at Middletown High School, was driving her mother's Chevrolet Cavalier home from work at The Fredericktowne Mall when she was distracted, crossed the center line, and struck a tree on the front driver's side of her vehicle, Anne Jeans said.

Police reports stated that Sherrie "didn't swerve, didn't skid, didn't screech," her mother said.

The impact buckled the car's roof and threw open the driver's side door. Sherrie was thrown from the vehicle, struck the road on her left side, and was unconscious when paramedics arrived, her mother said.

The driver's side airbag had inflated.

Sherrie's story might have had a tragic ending, but "everything clicked during that 'golden hour,' " a term emergency workers use for the crucial time in which medical care can determine life or death immediately following a serious accident, Anne Jeans said.

A Frederick County emergency dispatcher driving home from work happened upon the accident scene moments after the crash and called for help, Anne Jeans said.

Paramedics from Braddock Heights Volunteer Fire Co. quickly responded. A Maryland State Police helicopter flew Sherrie to Washington County Hospital in three minutes, her mother said.

She was in "extremely critical condition" when she arrived at the hospital, Kross said.

Sherrie suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken left femur (the largest bone in the leg), broken left humerus (the long bone of the upper arm), collapsed left and right lungs, ruptured liver, bruised left kidney and abdominal injuries, he said.

She had multiple pelvic fractures, radial nerve palsy on her left side, left hip dislocation and bone fracture at the hip socket, and developed seizures, Kross added.

Sherrie was in a deep coma, her brain swollen, dotted with tiny lesions, and not communicating with the lower part of her body, O'Malley said.

Upon impact, "Her brain twisted a little bit, and one part twisted more than the other part," he said.

Trauma doctors put a tube down Sherrie's throat to help her breathe. They gave her blood transfusions, ran scans and took X-rays to determine internal damage, and set her broken bones.

Sherrie remained unconscious for two days, a period which was "very scary," Anne Jeans wrote in her journal.

Orthopedic Surgeon Shep J. Friedman reconstructed with "hardware" Sherrie's elbow, said Anne Jeans, who remained at her daughter's side throughout the ordeal. She started going home at night after establishing a good relationship with an Intensive Care Unit nurse she realized would be near to help her daughter.

"Those first four weeks were such a blur," Anne Jeans said. "Thank God for the wonderful staff and people who help you get through something like this."

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