June 27, 2008

New trauma network helps families cope

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Harpeth Hall student Eliza Taylor talks with John Morris, M.D. Taylor and her classmates organized a drive to donate used computers to organizations such as Vanderbilt’s new Trauma Survivors Network. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

New trauma network helps families cope

For more than a month, Shawn Coltharp kept vigil as Hillary, her 26-year-old daughter, lay critically injured in Vanderbilt's Trauma Center.

Faced with emotional distress over her daughter's injuries, Coltharp wasn't sure what to do or where to turn — she wasn't even sure what questions to ask the Trauma team.

Little did Coltharp know that each year at Vanderbilt thousands of other families have similar experiences.

Now, thanks to a new pilot program beginning July 1, those patients and families will be able to learn from Coltharp, along with many others, with the launch of the Vanderbilt Trauma Survivor's Network (TSN).

Vanderbilt's TSN is one of two such pilot programs in the country. The other is at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“My daughter's accident was overwhelming. We were hit by such an emotional truth and we had no mechanism for coping,” Coltharp said.

“TSN will help patients and families by setting expectations about the care and next steps in a very organized fashion. We want them to know that they are not alone and TSN will allow them to communicate with other people going through the same thing.”

TSN will focus on the three components of the patient and family journey through the trauma system — the initial crisis, rehabilitation and then reintegration into society.

A significant component of TSN will be the use of an elaborate Internet system that will facilitate communication between current and former patients' families. Through the use of blogs and chat rooms, families will be able to share experiences and learn from others.

A national Web site called “traumawiki” will be established that will become a one-stop information source.

“We're breaking down the walls of the waiting room on 10 North and uniting this community,” said John Morris, M.D., director of the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care. “It's part of Vanderbilt's vision in the 2020 plan to impact society and extend out into the larger community.”

To help the program get started, students from Harpeth Hall donated seven laptops that can be used by patients' families in the waiting room to access the TSN Web site.

“The patient care coordinators will help train families on how to access the site and how to navigate the different functions,” Morris said. “We also anticipate that families will help each other learn about the system.”

Vanderbilt admits more than 4,000 trauma patients a year. If four family members of each patient are impacted by the Web site and blogs, the impact could reach more than 16,000 people each year.

“It all loops back,” Morris said. “In a very personal way that begins with just one patient.”

Another component of the system will involve local peer visitation. Once a patient is discharged (either to rehab or back to their local community) a community-based peer visitation network will kick in.

“Traditionally, in the acute care setting we've not paid much attention to the needs of the patient or their families once they've been discharged and gone home,” Morris said.

“Now, that's going to change. Who better than a local neighbor that's been in the same situation to check in with the patient and family? That person will be able to share information about what they've been through and what the family and patient can expect.”

Coltharp, who has gained considerable blogging experience by writing about her daughter's recovery (http://www.xanga.com/hillarycoltharp), will act as a consultant to help implement the TSN.

“I had no idea trauma was such a chronic disease until this happened to Hillary,” Coltharp said. “We're going to help those families that were just like mine — frustrated, angry and scared.”

For more information visit mytsn.org.