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Published on March 22, 2013

Chain Of Events Brings Michigan Couple And MU Trauma Team Together - Again

COLUMBIA, Mo. ― Kay and Jack Bonzelaar of Holland, Mich., had expected July 18, 2012, to be a leisurely day spent with friends and fellow motorcycle enthusiasts.

“We had just finished having lunch with a group of friends we were visiting in Osage Beach, Mo., and were headed back to the campground where we had our motor home,” said Kay. “It was the middle of the afternoon, and we were in a group of about eight to 10 motorcycles. All our friends were out in front of us as we turned onto a road that had been freshly oiled and graveled.”

Neither Kay nor Jack, an avid motorcyclist for 60 years, knows what happened next.

“The tire must have caught on some loose gravel going around the curve,” Jack said. “I don’t know. I have no idea.”

In an instant, their bike was flung into a ditch, causing devastating injuries to both riders. But a chain of events was set in motion that would prove to be life-saving.

“Two gentlemen in a pickup truck had been behind us and saw our bike go off the road,” Kay said. “These two wonderful men just went into action in a split-second, called 911 requesting emergency assistance and got those people to us quickly. That was the first thing that occurred that would save our lives.”

Minutes after the accident, Jack awoke with four broken ribs, multiple fractures to his left hip and a collapsed lung. Though never unconscious, Kay has no memory of anything from the time the accident occurred to more than three weeks later. 

“Apparently I was awake during transport because they told me later I was screaming that I couldn’t breathe,” Kay said. “My diaphragm was ruptured, causing my abdominal organs to move up into my chest cavity. Every rib, 24 total, were broken ― a few in two places. My pelvis was fractured. My right arm was fractured in multiple places. My spleen had exploded. My liver was lacerated, and multiple arteries in my left leg were severed.”

Both patients were transported by helicopter to University Hospital’s Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center.

Chris Nelson, M.D., an acute care surgeon and an expert in trauma surgery, emergency surgery and surgical critical care at University Hospital, was the first to reach Kay.

“The bleeding from her leg had been controlled during transport by application of a tourniquet,” said Nelson. “But the leg injury was just one source of the massive blood loss she was experiencing. And even more problematic was the fact that her abdominal organs were now in her chest cavity, putting an extreme amount of pressure on her heart.”

Within seconds of arriving in the trauma bay, Kay’s heart quit beating.

Thoracic trauma is a leading cause of death for trauma victims. Because of the severity of Kay’s injuries and the loss of vital signs, Nelson made a split-second decision to surgically open the chest cavity, called an emergency or resuscitative thoracotomy, so that he could move the abdominal organs back into her abdomen. Relieving this pressure would allow the heart to function. Simultaneously, Nelson performed cardiac massage, to manually restart Kay’s heart.

“Unless I moved the abdominal organs out of the chest cavity to relieve the tension in her chest, there was no chance of getting the heart to function,” said Nelson. “And then, of course, once we did this, we had to get her heart to resume pumping.”

After restarting her heart, Kay was transported to the operating room with a trauma team member holding her heart in both hands. In the O.R., Kay underwent emergency surgery to stop the life threatening bleeding in her abdomen and chest.

For patients with Kay’s injuries, the estimated survival rate is one percent. But Nelson’s efforts paid off.

“Dr. Nelson’s rapid identification and immediate action to perform this combination of difficult procedures is what saved her life,” said Stephen Barnes, M.D., chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery at University Hospital and an expert in trauma surgery, emergency surgery and surgical critical care. “In seconds, he figured out what he needed to do, and he did it.”

Once stabilized, the Bonzelaars would each need multiple surgeries from experts in various disciplines. Jack was released to Rusk Rehabilitation Center after more than a week in University Hospital’s surgical intensive care unit (SICU). By the time he completed physical rehabilitation three weeks later, Kay was discharged from the SICU to a facility in her home state for several more weeks until she was well enough to begin physical rehabilitation. Jack is back to riding motorcycles, and Kay continues to improve with time.

“I have made a phenomenal recovery,” said Kay. “I still have a ways to go, but from the amount of injuries I sustained in July, to going on vacation in November, is amazing.”

“When you think about all the events that occurred to save our lives,” said Jack. “From the two men in the pickup truck who knew just what to do and to do it quickly, the rapid transport to a Level I trauma center, and the trauma team at University Hospital, who ultimately saved our lives ― I can’t think of those things as just coincidence. No way. We were being looked out for.”

Kay has gotten used to the looks she gets from others when they view the X-ray images of the reconstruction of her body following last July’s accident. On a recent visit to a Florida emergency room for an unrelated health issue, the ER physician gazed in amazement at the images.

“Then he turned to me and said, ‘If you ever get the chance to go back and thank your doctors, you need to do that because they did a phenomenal job.’ And that is just what I plan to do,” said Kay. “I just want to hug them all!”

NOTE TO REPORTERS AND EDITORS: Kay and Jack Bonzelaar will return to University Hospital to visit with Nelson and other staff for the first time since their accident. The reunion will take place at 1 p.m. Monday, March 25, in the hospital’s SICU. The media is welcome to attend, and interview the Bonzelaars and Nelson. Please contact Jeff Hoelscher at 884-1608 (office) or 999-6016 (cell) to arrange attendance.