Stories and Testimonials
From the Files of
Lee Memorial Health System
"Sometimes It's the Little Things That Get You"
Larry Sweeney Story
On November 28, 2004, Larry
Sweeney's day began like many others. He and his wife planned to
enjoy a day trail riding on their all-terrain vehicles in the
sand hills south of Lehigh Acres. They had spent many days
on those trails and had grown to enjoy the time there with
friends as one of their favorite weekend pastimes. When Larry
left home that morning, he had no reason to believe that his day
would bring anything other than the usual enjoyment it always
brought. He was wrong.
While visiting with Larry,
he told me, "It's not like I was being crazy or acting up on the
ATV. I was going 7 miles per hour. Can you believe it? Seven
miles per hour." Then he adds, "But sometimes it's the little
things that get you."
Larry was on his ATV.
Witnesses confirm that what happened next was seemingly a
non-event. At low speed, Larry hit a small bump in the trail.
Maybe he was distracted or maybe just caught by surprise but the
result was that the front of the bike bounced up a little,
leaving Larry off-balance. He fell off the back of the bike
landing firmly in the soft sand. Unfortunately, he landed flat
on his back, placing his full falling weight on his spine.
Larry says, "Really, you
should get hurt worse by stepping off your doorstep wrong. I
didn't fall that far or that hard. I just landed wrong."
Larry said he knew
immediately that something was wrong. It wasn't like he felt
bones breaking on impact, but he definitely knew that something
wasn't as it should be. In fact, something was very wrong. With
the full pressure of his entire body weight landing firmly and
suddenly on his back, his T12 vertebra splintered and compressed
upon impact, sending bone shards into his spinal canal and
against his spinal cord and the peripheral nerves above and
below the shattered bone. The pain was immediate and
Larry lay still for a few
moments trying to give himself enough time for the pain to pass.
When pain persisted, he felt he needed to try to right himself
and stand up. It was then that he realized that, because of the
pain and trauma to his spine, he was unable to fully use his
legs. Soon, friends began to realize that what had
appeared to be a somewhat innocuous fall had caused Larry more
difficulty than they had anticipated. They began to gather,
offer help and attempt to help him up. It was no use. The pain
made it impossible for Larry to move. An ambulance was summoned.
Since his injuries were not
overtly traumatic, Larry was transported to the closest hospital
where treatment was started and diagnostics were performed. When
the diagnostics were read and coupled with Larry's subsequent
cardiac distress, arrangements were made to immediately
transport him via helicopter to the Lee Memorial trauma center.
In the meantime, Larry and his wife received the initial
prognosis: be prepared for permanent partial paralysis of the
legs; permanent constant pain.
Before the chopper left the
ground with Larry in tow, the LMHS trauma team was notified and
preparations were made for his arrival. Neurological specialists
were brought in. An operating room was readied for immediate
treatment of Larry's injuries.
"From the time they brought
me in...they made me feel like I was the most important person
in the hospital," Larry said. "I can't say enough good things
about the folks in the trauma center and here at Lee Memorial."
From the outset, Larry's
case was handled aggressively. He was given pain and
anti-inflammatory medications. Special nerve sparing and
repairing medications were applied and arrangements were made
for the surgery that would begin the process of realigning
Larry's broken back. A large pulmonary embolism developed. The
trauma team, knowing the likelihood of such developments, were
prepared and began administration of blood thinners to minimize
the impact of the clot. What could have been disastrous was
instead a non-issue due to the expertise and preparedness of the
Ten months and several
surgeries later, Larry remains positive. He knows that he will
not be as he was before his accident but he also knows that he
is much better than he would have been had there not been a
trauma center available with dedicated trauma staff to bring him
the medical expertise he needed. Today, he can sit upright for
limited periods of time. He can move his legs, and he has full
feeling in all extremities. He can even walk a little.
Larry's rehabilitation process continues, and he still faces a
difficult path to recovery. However, in spite of the obvious
difficulties, Larry looks forward to each day.
"Hey, I wasn't supposed to
be able to sit up straight or move my legs. But I can do both. I
can even walk a little," he says. "And I believe I'll keep
getting better." He finishes by saying, "If you need anyone to
go out and speak about how valuable the trauma center is, you
just let me know. I'd be glad to."
One day, maybe Larry will
WALK in to where you're having lunch and tell you about the LMHS
trauma center. In his heart, he believes he will.