It was a day like any other in early July when Zach Elliott, a building inspector, jumped in his truck at 6 a.m. and headed out from his Orange County home to a construction site in the City of Commerce. About half way to the construction site, Zach’s pickup truck suddenly veered off the freeway and slammed head-on into a tree.
Once emergency services arrived, it took 23 minutes to remove Zach from his vehicle. When freed from the twisted remains of his truck, Zach was rushed to the emergency department at Long Beach Medical Center, where he would spend the next week in the trauma intensive care unit (ICU).
As a Level II Trauma Center, Long Beach Medical Center provides round-the-clock care for the most traumatic and life threatening incidents. In 2015, 28 percent of trauma patients at Long Beach Medical Center were involved in a motor vehicle accident.
“By the time Zach arrived in our trauma room he was so sick,” said Desiree Thomas, program director, Trauma Service, Long Beach Medical Center. “Zach was dying on us.”
The massive trauma from the accident left Zach’s body mangled. The slew of Zach’s injuries included two broken clavicles (collarbone), a fractured scapula (shoulder blades), all of his ribs - except two - were broken, five fractured vertebrates in his thoracic spine (upper- and middle-back) and both of his lungs were collapsed. Zach needed nine intravenous tubes (IVs) to deliver medicines and fluids to his body, including more than 100-units of blood. Even with the many medical interventions taking place, survival was not guaranteed, or in his favor – he was facing a 50/50 chance of death.
“That moment you get the news that your child has been injured, of all things in this life that can scare you, this alone is the scariest experience you will ever go through,” said Wayne Elliott, Zach’s father. “Clocks stopped for me. Time stopped. Nothing else mattered but getting to that hospital as fast as I could, because I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance to see him alive.”
Zach’s family gathered at the hospital as he fought to survive in the intensive care unit – all they could do was wait.
As his first night in the ICU came to a close, his family was cautiously optimistic about his recovery.
Zach continued to improve physically, moving his feet and tried to communicate through gestures, since his breathing tube prevented him from talking. Within the first 24-hours of being in ICU, Zach used 75 units of blood. Family and friends offered to help Zach by donating blood at the Blood Donor Center at Long Beach Medical Center.
After seven days, Zach’s breathing tube was removed and he was able to talk. Zach’s mother, Suzy would never forget the joy of the moment that tube was removed and they could hear his voice. Two days later, Zach was moved from the ICU to a room on the 4th floor of the hospital – a good sign in his recovery process.
While Zach recovered in the ICU, his family created a strong relationship with the nurses and trauma service care team. Peter Canapi, ICU nurse, would brew a pot of coffee every morning around 4 a.m., and would offer it to Suzy to help start the day. The care team treated them like family.
“They saved my son,” said Elliott. “I didn’t even have words. The nurse just gave me a hug and that made it better. Nurses don’t have to do that, they really don’t.”
According to Thomas, Zach being 26 years old was fortunate as, it allowed the care team to push him to the brink physically and helped Zach walk out of the hospital only 12 days later.
“We really meet people at the brink of their lives, and at that moment it’s about our ability to be surgically ready to take care of any patient at any second,” said Thomas.
Zach entered a long road of physical therapy and recovery that was ultimately able to help him return back to work and his love for handiwork. So far, he’s helped to remodel his parent’s bathroom and enjoys fixing cars.