Spending countless hours on the water was nothing new for 29-year-old Ashley Ames. She grew up in river town Keokuk, Iowa, the water was a part of her. But in August 2016, the water she grew to love nearly took her life and left her two daughters without a mother.
Ashley was on a vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks, and was involved in a jet ski accident, in which she sustained life-threatening injuries.
"I thought I was paralyzed — I couldn't move my legs, I couldn't talk," Ashley said. "I remember going to the dock on the jet ski. It felt like my body was crushing with every wave. I woke up two days later in the ICU."
While waiting for the ambulance to take her from the scene, Ashley continued to lose blood, requiring a blood transfusion at Lake Regional Hospital in Osage Beach. The Staff for Life Helicopter Serviceairlifted Ashley to the Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center at University of Missouri Health Care — mid-Missouri's only Level I trauma center. While in the air, Ashley required yet another blood transfusion. Once arriving at the trauma center, Ashley immediately underwent "damage control surgery" — a term used to describe performing the necessary surgical interventions to ensure she was strong enough for the surgeries that would come next.
Ashley's suffered a massive pressure injury to her pelvic floor and abdomen. She remembers waking up and immediately asking for her children. As a mother of two, her worst fears centered around not being present for her kids. The reassurance and support she received from trauma surgeon Stephen Barnes, MD, was crucial, she said.
"I didn't want my girls to be afraid of seeing me like that, all the lines, poles, medicine, the hospital gown. I didn't want them to be scared." Ashley said. "Dr. Barnes came into my room, pulled up a chair and said that my kids should come see me — that they needed to. He stopped by every day after that. I can't recall a day he didn't come to see me."
In the care of MU Health Care physicians, Ashley received two major surgeries and two smaller procedures, while keeping Barnes' "less is more" surgical approach in mind. Her care team believed that it was essential to allow time for her body to build itself up before jumping into the next procedure, something that Ashley initially struggled to accept.
"Through all of this, I've learned it's not about being patient, it's about trust and trusting the judgment of your doctors," Ashley said. "If it wasn't for Dr. Barnes' background and his experience, I wouldn't be here today."
Before joining the faculty in MU Health Care's Department of Surgery in 2008, Barnes served as a major in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps, where he directed the Critical Air Transport Advanced Training Program at the U.S. Air Force Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills. In 2006, he served in Iraq as Chief of Critical Care and Medical Director of the Intensive Care Unit at the 332nd Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base.
Ashley still visits the staff members who saved her life. They smile from ear to ear when she steps on the floor, throwing their arms around her and noting how far she's come. They greet her family with the same excitement, shouting, "Dad!" when Ashley's father joins her on visits. Ask anyone in her family to tell you the story of the accident, and each takes pause and starts the same way, "We are so lucky to be here."
Ashley credits Dr. Barnes and his staff for their expertise and incredible level of care.
"As a surgeon and a doctor, he has a gift," Ashley said. "My life was literally in his hands, and thanks to him both of my children have a mother. That's the most important thing to me."