First trauma patient saved from heart puncture

Better high-tech scanning and having a cardiac surgery team and operating room just steps away rather than miles away, made a life and death difference for a man who had his heart punctured, liver torn and five ribs broken early April 17.

The car crash victim was the first trauma patient flown into Community Regional Medical Center just hours after the Level 1 trauma designation and trauma staff moved over from University Medical Center to the newly opened Table Mountain Rancheria Trauma Center.

The victim had the kind of life-threatening injuries that UMC trauma doctors and nurses are experts at treating. But if the crash had happened the day before, the man with a rib through his heart would have been stabilized at UMC first and then been transferred by ambulance to the the regional medical center for the surgery needed to patch his heart, said the doctors who worked on him.

“We would not have had the equipment to do either of the surgeries we did at Community Regional hospital,” explained Dr. Richard Gregory, medical director of cardiac surgery at Community Regional and the Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Ricard Townsend agreed, “At Community Regional there’s specialized equipment and easy access to the subspecialty care and that made a difference in the patient’s outcome. …At UMC cardiac surgeons are, quite frankly, unavailable because they're at other facilities such as Community Regional.”

Jack Chubb, chief executive officer of both UMC and Community Regional, called the first trauma surgery  “the beginning of the miracles that will happen at the new regional medical center.”

All of UMC’s acute care services were moved, along with 68 burn, pediatric, trauma, medical/surgical, critical care and intermediate care patients, to the Community Regional campus in downtown Fresno. The three-day move, on April 16-18, completed a decade-old promise made to Fresno County when Community Medical Centers took over the county-run Valley Medical Center and renamed it UMC.

Coupling the only burn and Level 1 trauma centers in the region with the high-tech procedures and equipment of Community Regional, and uniting private physicians and specialists with those in the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, gives the Valley a true academic regional medical center.

Dr. Gregory said he expects to be able to do more in the new trauma center because it’s bigger, has the latest high-tech equipment and a cardiac surgery room staffed with nurses specially trained in cardiac surgery.

Within 20 minutes of the car crash victim’s arrival on the rooftop helipad, Dr. Townsend was opening up the patient’s abdominal cavity to assess the extent of his injuries and begin repairs. When the medical team discovered a fractured rib sticking through the man’s heart, Dr. Gregory was called. He arrived within 15 minutes.

As Dr. Gregory prepped in the cardiac surgery bay, the patient’s head and spine were scanned next door in a 64-slice CT scanner that can do head-to-toe looks in 10 seconds to check for brain and nerve damage.

“We get more information quicker with the equipment here,” Townsend said, comparing it to the 2-slice CT scanner he had available at the old UMC trauma center.

“It’s amazing – the right people, in the right place, doing the right thing,” praised Bruce Kinder, Community’s vice president of academic affairs who orchestrated the move of UMC’s services to Community Regional.

This story was reported by Erin Kennedy. She can be reached at