UC Health Crucial Partner in Long Road to Recovery
Published August 2010
Last October, David Clark and a friend went out for what was supposed to be "a wonderful afternoon of riding.”
Both on motorcycles, the pair headed east on U.S. 42, away from Clark’s home in Florence, Ky. Not 20 miles out, Clark leaned into a left turn and hit a patch of broken pavement—"from that point on,” he says, "I really have no recollection of what happened.”
He’s been told that he tried to balance his wobbling bike, but it pushed him into the side of a pickup truck headed west.
The impact shattered his tibia below the knee, his femur above the knee and severed two arteries.
From that point on, Clark’s encounters with EMS workers, UC Health University Hospital Air Care and the hospital’s trauma and orthopedic surgery teams—as well as a perfect stranger—were crucial to his survival and recovery.
The first was James Brossart, a truck driver hauling gravel on U.S. 42.
Stopped behind the accident, Brossart left his truck and ran ahead. There, the former fire department volunteer used his belt as a makeshift tourniquet on Clark’s left thigh.
Clark’s femur was visible and he was bleeding profusely.
"It was getting harder and harder to keep him conscious,” says Brossart.
Soon after, Air Care landed, the only regional medical helicopter carrying blood onboard.
During the flight to University Hospital, flight physician Ginger Culyer, MD, pumped Clark, now in hemorrhagic shock, with IV fluids and blood.
"Without the blood I don’t think he would have made it,” she says.
"Blood really makes a difference for these critical trauma patients.”
Once at University Hospital, the emergency medicine and trauma teams worked to stop the bleeding and save Clark’s leg. In the next week, he received 24 units of blood while orthopedic specialists stabilized the leg with pins and bars and covered the bone with muscle and skin grafts.
UC Health orthopedic surgeon John Wyrick, MD, says Clark had extensive damage to his tibia, femur and soft tissues, but his knee joint itself was in decent shape.
"It was a situation where we did not know if the leg could be saved, but with such extensive damage and loss of bone, it was not a great amputation situation because his femur would be too short.”
Clark was released from the hospital after 13 days, his left femur shortened 3 inches and containing a 2-inch gap. For the former pilot, skydiving instructor and avid motorcyclist, the next weeks were a test on his endurance and faith.
"I was a very active person,” says Clark.
"To be handicapped by this accident was devastating. But I have a lot of faith that God has a plan … that’s what kept me going.”
Wyrik performed Clark’s first bone graft in January, after his soft tissue injuries had healed enough.
"We needed so much bone that we used a new technique to ream bone from the insides of both his right femur and tibia,” says Wyrick.
"We can usually get plenty of bone from just the femur.”
But an infection in the left femur resulted in the removal of the graft and more weeks of waiting, this time on IV antibiotics.
In May, Wyrick inserted an artificial bone graft in Clark’s leg, which he says is now healing well and can bear some weight.
"He’s advancing in physical therapy, but he still has hurdles to jump,” says Wyrick. "It is a very long road.”
Clark also knows the journey isn’t over yet, but he has a very optimistic outlook.
"I think that there’s something else in store for me,” he says.
"I don’t know what it looks like and I don’t know when it’s coming. I think I was spared for a reason—I’m anxious to find out what that reason is and try to achieve that goal.”