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Patient Stories and Testimonials
From the Files of

The Lee Memorial Health System
Trauma Center

"Sometimes It's the Little Things That Get You"

The 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 excruciating.

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 trauma staff.

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.


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