Skip to main content

Great Saves event reunites thankful patients, caregivers

Jan. 11, 2018, 9:19 AM

Although he was in a deep coma, Fort Campbell soldier Marshal Castillo is convinced that hearing nurses speaking his name, feeling them touching him and explaining their daily care routines was what kept him tethered, clinging to life in the intensive care unit so he could continue healing.

Liza Weavind, MBBCh, MMHC, center, hugs former patient Betty Sells during the recent Great Saves luncheon that brought together former Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Trauma Intensive Care Unit patients and their caregivers. (photo by Steve Green)

“Being comatose is not an absence of presence, so the nurses physically touching me, talking to me — just being there — helped me feel just a little less scared,” said Castillo, who spent 27 days in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). “The compassion, the caring and the level you’re willing to go to for someone going through what I went through, that is invaluable. You guys get patients that are in the worst states and somehow you love them and care for them like they’re your own family.”

Castillo, who had just returned from a deployment with his Fort Campbell-based military unit when he became ill, has since been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV. The genetic vascular-connective tissue disorder caused a life-threatening perforation of his small intestine. He and other former patients of the SICU and the Trauma Intensive Care Unit (TICU) at VUMC recently returned to the adult hospital to share their continued recoveries and their gratitude with those they credit with saving their lives.

Castillo’s story, as well as the stories of other patients who have recovered from critical illness or trauma, are featured on a Great Saves display along a SICU hallway.

One of Castillo’s physicians was Addison May, MD, medical director of the SICU, who was there to greet him during the Great Saves luncheon and discussion at the SICU.

“This is an important day for a number of reasons,” May said. “Many care providers never get to see the critically ill patients they care for after they’re better. The way the human brain works, you tend to store the negatives. Nurses and intensivists just assume a sick person never got better. That’s often the lasting image they have. It creates a skewed mindset.

“We originally created the Great Saves display some time ago for the staff, but patients’ families really benefit from it as well. It’s helpful for them to see that their critically ill loved ones really can get better.”

Janice Strawn, 64, and her husband, Max, were thrilled to see Tanna Walker, RN, one of the event’s organizers. Following lung surgery, Janice Strawn was being prepared for transport from VUMC to a rehabilitation facility when her blood pressure plummeted and her heart stopped. Walker jumped into action.

“Tanna gave me CPR,” Strawn said, smiling while she gripped Walker’s hand. “She broke every bone in my chest, but she saved my life. I’d like to be mad at her, but I can’t be. I’m alive because of her.”

Among those at the Great Saves luncheon were Steve Schroeder, seated, and, from left, Betty Sells, Marshal Castillo, Janice Strawn, Addison May, MD, Erica Schoch, RN, Tanna Walker, RN, and Mike Renna. (photo by Steve Green)

“Janice and I have been married 48 years,” said Max. “If it hadn’t been for Tanna, she wouldn’t be here. I want to thank all the nurses. They let family members come up and stay with Janice, which was good for everyone.”

In January 2016, Fort Campbell pilot Steve Schroeder became a passenger on a LifeFlight air ambulance after his helicopter crashed during training. His injuries were numerous: a spinal fracture and broken neck, ribs, arm and foot, as well as a brain injury, burns and a lacerated liver.

Because his injuries were so severe, Schroeder said he doesn’t remember most of his time at VUMC, and delirium had blurred the line between reality and fiction.

“I was told I need to thank Dr. G,” he said, referring to Oscar Guillamondegui, MD, associate professor of Surgery and medical director of the TICU.

“It’s been really great for me to come back, see some familiar faces and thank them from a much more calm perspective,” said Sarah Schroeder, Steve’s wife. “It’s also nice for me and my husband to see the other members of the panel — the patients. We’re all at different stages of life, different stages of recovery. Seeing how people navigate that and create a new, meaningful life is good for us.”

Lindsey Powell, RN, a nurse in the SICU, cried when she spotted one of her former patients in the room.

“I was in the rooms of some of these patients 48 to 72 hours taking care of them, so to see the long-term outcome is just amazing,” Powell said. “It makes you know what you do every day makes a difference.”

Recent Stories from VUMC News and Communications Publications

Vanderbilt Medicine
VUMC Voice