After a Traumatic Car Crash: Survivor Tells Her Incredible Story

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May is National Trauma Awareness Month, but for Alicenne Cote of Palmer, her trauma day was noon on February 24, 2022. That is when Alicenne, 21, was a passenger in a rollover car accident. While swerving to avoid an oncoming vehicle on a back road in Palmer, the driver hit a tree stump that caused the car to go flying into the air and flip multiple times; between flips, Alicenne was ejected 10 feet from the car.

Arrival at the Trauma Center

“I don’t remember much and was going in and out of consciousness in the ambulance on the way to Baystate Wing Hospital. When the ambulance arrived, they had the code room ready, which I had no idea what that was. I knew that I had been in a car accident, but I didn’t know the extent of my injuries. All I knew at the time was when looking at my wrist, I noticed my Apple watch had literally exploded from the impact. I soon learned that I had injuries from head to toe and was being sent to the trauma center at Baystate Medical Center,” Alicenne said.

A code room, as Alicenne mentioned, is a specially-equipped room in the emergency department designed for acute treatment of trauma patients.

“Alicenne sustained complex lacerations and a few facial fractures for which no major surgery was required. She also had an avulsion fracture of the foot, which is a high-grade ankle sprain that severely disrupts the ligaments of the ankle. The additional good news for her was that when she arrived at our trauma center, we were able to determine that she had no internal bleeding and would not need any chest or abdominal surgery,” said Dr. Edward Kelly, chief of the Division of Trauma, Acute Care Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at Baystate.

Dr. Kelly noted that when waiting for a trauma patient to arrive at the emergency department, the trauma team never knows what to expect and they are always prepared for the worst possible situation.

A Bit of Luck and a Lot of Excellent Care

“Alicenne was lucky. This was a rollover accident which involved being ejected from the automobile and those accidents are usually associated with many high-risk injuries, including internal bleeding and blood loss,” Dr. Kelly said.

While none of her injuries were life threatening, Alicenne was admitted to Baystate Medical Center for five days for observation.

“Our concern was for Alicenne’s left earlobe which was nearly ripped off. After cleaning the skin and disinfecting the injury, it did not appear that there was any involvement into the deep structure and a doctor from Baystate Plastic Surgery was called in to repair the lobe,” Dr. Kelly said.

Alicenne noted that doctors continue today to remove glass from her body. “The smaller pieces of debris are impossible to find in the acute phase, as they are not palpable or visible on scan. If they become symptomatic, they can be located and removed,” Dr. Kelly said.

From her care at Baystate Wing Hospital to Baystate Medical Center, Alicenne noted she met a team of incredible nurses, doctors, and great plastic surgeons who “definitely did an awesome job keeping me calm in such a scary time.”

Alicenne noted the accident had a “major impact on my life and changed it entirely.”

A New Life Path

Alicenne standing next to Kristina Grochowski, both smiling in front of Ambulance Only and Emergency Trauma sign.

A criminal justice major attending Westfield State University at the time of the accident, Alicenne took a year off from her studies to recuperate. She plans on attending STCC in the fall, but not to continue in criminal justice.

“The accident and the people who cared for me were just amazing, saving lives every day, and seeing that changed my perspective on what I wanted to do with my future,”Alicenne said about now wanting to become a radiologist.

Dr. Kelly, who has seen thousands of trauma cases since joining Baystate in 2019, noted he chose trauma surgery as his specialty because of the challenge of “being in the moment with the need to make instant, complex decisions which could mean the difference between a patient’s life or death. You have an opportunity to make a big difference for someone on what is probably the worst day of their life,” he said.

Trauma Awareness Month & Roadway Safety Awareness

Raising awareness and supporting prevention efforts of dangerous driving is more important now than ever. With a documented rise in motor vehicle crashes and fatalities throughout the nation, this year’s Trauma Awareness Month theme is “Roadway Safety Is No Accident.” Injury and violence prevention professionals throughout the nation have been responding to the rise in motor vehicle related injuries and deaths. Our roadways continue to become overcrowded, drivers are more distracted now than ever before, and safety hazards are growing, contributing to this rapidly evolving crisis.

While the focus of this year’s Trauma Awareness Month is on roadway safety, Dr. Kelly noted only one-third of traumas in Massachusetts are the result of vehicle accidents, with falls being number one in the state followed by industrial and home accidents, violence, and more.

In support of this year’s theme of “Roadway Safety Is No Accident,” Dr. Kelly offered the following advice: “My message is drive safely, defensively, obey the speed limit, and wear your seat belt,” he said.

Alicenne agrees. “I learned my lesson,” she said about buckling up now after not wearing her seat belt during the accident.

The Only Level 1 Trauma Center in Western Mass

Trauma centers are designed to care for adults and children after the most serious injuries, including car crashes, gunshots, and falls. Baystate Medical Center is an American College of Surgeons verified level 1 trauma center, which means we provide the highest level of surgical care for trauma patients.

“Baystate Medical Center is the only level 1 trauma center in western Massachusetts. As a leader in trauma care, we support our own three community hospitals and all neighboring communities, as well as southern Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, who stabilize trauma patients in their emergency departments before transferring them to us for surgical trauma and specialty care,” said Kristina Grochowski, RN, manager, Trauma Program.

“We also have a helipad to accept patients flown in and receive air ambulance transfers from other hospitals and directly from the field. Every second counts for these patients,” she added.

Providing the highest level of traumatic injury care 24/7, the Baystate trauma team includes eight board-certified trauma surgeons, emergency medicine physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses and a full complement of other highly trained medical professionals from a wide variety of specialties including respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, heart and vascular and critical care specialists, and many others.

Last year, the trauma team provided care for more than 2,865 patients with the goal of saving their lives and, whenever possible, returning them to normal life after a serious injury.

“We have a very cohesive trauma team and are proud of what we do every day for the many communities we serve,” Grochowski said.

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