When Yirui Wei, a softspoken 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Missouri, walked into University Hospital's surgical intensive care unit in fall 2009, there were few dry eyes in the room. Tears of joy accompanied hugs from staff members who stood in amazement at the young college student's remarkable recovery. For Wei, the visit marked a triumphant return to the hospital where she fought for her life for seven weeks.
Joseph Fugaro, MD, a fellow in University Hospital's Surgical Intensive Care Unit, wipes a tear from Yirui Wei's cheek as Lesa Beamer, Wei's academic advisor, snaps a photo of the reunion.
"This was a day we weren't sure would come," said Lesa Beamer, PhD, Wei's academic advisor in the School of Medicine's Department of Biochemistry.
For seven agonizing weeks, Beamer and Wei's family and friends watched, waited and prayed for her recovery. Wei first arrived at University Hospital on June 25, 2009 minutes after emergency personnel pulled her from the bottom of an 8-foot swimming pool. She was found unconscious and had spent five to 10 minutes underwater. She was not breathing, and doctors said her prognosis was grim.
"For a patient in her situation, the likelihood of a functional neurological recovery is almost zero," said Jeffrey Coughenour, MD, trauma surgeon at University Hospital.
Despite the odds, Wei slowly responded to treatment. A multidisciplinary team of trauma surgeons, intensive care nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and physical and occupational therapists, along with the first responders who cared for Wei at the scene of the accident, all played key roles in delivering the timely care Wei needed to survive.
As mid-Missouri's only Level I trauma center, University Hospital treats the most serious types of trauma injuries.
Hundreds of patients like Wei put their lives in the hands of the highly-skilled trauma team every year. As with many trauma patients, she benefited from the outstanding critical care provided at the trauma center.
"The fact that we were able to provide 24-7 physician and nursing care in the intensive care unit driven by evidence-based guidelines improved her probability for the best outcome possible," Coughenour said. "Yirui also benefited from her youth. Her brain showed great resiliency in responding to treatment."
Wei doesn't remember a lot of her time in the hospital. She can recall certain events such as the first time she sat up. While the accident weakened her body, she is slowly regained strength through extensive rehabilitation at Rusk Rehabilitation Center.
Lucky is a word she repeats often. She recognizes her outcome could be much different, if not for the care provided to her by the trauma team at University Hospital.
"I thank all the people who helped me," Wei said. "I'm lucky, real lucky."
Story by Matt Splett, photo by Justin Kelly