Behind the Scenes: An inside look at the region’s only Level One Trauma Center

Atrium Health's trauma center

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A horrific car accident. A gunshot wound to the abdomen. When people in the Charlotte region are seriously injured, where do they go? Who cares for the sickest among us?

Enter Atrium Health’s, Level One Trauma center at Carolinas Medical Center in the heart of the city. It’s the only hospital in the region that’s capable to take care of the sickest patients -- many of whom come from other hospitals, by ambulance or helicopter.

“Every minute counts so it’s essential for patients to get to the place they need to be very quickly,” said Dr. Susan Evans, the chief of surgical critical care. “In order to be a Level One trauma center, we have a certain set of criteria of things we need to offer.”

It includes doctors, nurses, physician assistants, technicians and surgeons who must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – whenever a trauma comes into CMC’s emergency department.

“It's amazing to see our team just jump into action when we have a trauma code come in. Everybody has a role -and everybody does something important to help save a life,” Dr. Evans said.

Also included in their wide-ranging cases -- a new mother of twins whose complications meant a stay in the ICU.

“She was in the ICU because her oxygen level was low and um, her heart rate was high,” said Dr. Evans “But she's well enough we can take her to see her babies. That's the part that's rewarding because it's kind of the cycle of life. It's hard to let people die. It's hard to watch people die. But it's also exciting to be able to see new life as well.

It’s that new life that keeps this nearly 50-member unit going - especially during the tough calls. As part of a Level 1, they must work together with precision-like teamwork. “When patients come into the trauma bay, someone needs to be putting their heart rate monitor on and their BP monitor on,” she said. “Someone needs to be getting an IV. Somebody needs to be assessing the order of x-rays we might need.”

Usually unconscious because they're injuries are so grave, Dr. Evans says they relish any opportunity to connect with patients during a trauma call. “If the patient is awake - it's very helpful if someone can look them in the eye and say, ' you're gonna be ok - we're going to take care of you’,” she said. “Because that human contact is important for people who are feeling panicky and nervous about how they're doing and what's going on.”

But most of the time that human contact is focused on the families especially when they know death is imminent. “It’s incredibly important to me to be able to help the family through that,” Dr. Evans said. “And, I think that there are times when the only care I can give as a doctor is to help a family through the dying process of their loved one.”

While those days never get easier - Dr. Evans says the ones where they reunite with the lives they saved are the most rewarding. “That’s probably the best feeling - seeing somebody who was really sick; maybe we even though they might not survive… so they can come up and say, ‘hi Dr. Evans, thank you very much.’ And that gets my heart more than anything else.”

Other duties for the trauma and surgical critical care team includes emergency surgeries like appendectomies or patients with cancer who have complications that require emergency surgery.

To see an hour by hour look at Dr. Evans’ day as a trauma surgeon, click here.

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