A Remarkable Recovery


Thanks to the team at LHSC’s Regional Trauma Program, Chris Leavens once again enjoys time with his wife, Chantelle, and daughter, Krista.

Thanks to the team at LHSC’s Regional Trauma Program, Chris Leavens once again enjoys time with his wife, Chantelle, and daughter, Krista.

Chris Leavens has a self-proclaimed fascination for anything with a motor – just call it a guy thing.

It was his love of motor sports that had him out one Saturday morning last July, driving his all-terrain vehicle on a dirt road near his home in Strathroy. As he pulled up to a blind intersection, he couldn’t see the oncoming vehicle until it was too late.

“I got crushed,” he says, though he recalls nothing of the actual crash that impacted him at 80 km/hr. “I made a mistake, and in a split second my life changed forever.”

After his vehicle finished flipping through the air into a nearby field, he came to rest against a hydro pole. When ambulance and fire crews arrived on scene they found Chris fully conscious with his helmet removed, wondering what had just happened.

“Because I was still conscious, at first nobody realized the full extent of my injuries,” he says, which included a broken pelvis, fibula, tibia, femur, sacrum, some tips off his spine and a burst spleen.

Arriving at Strathroy General Hospital, it didn’t take staff long to realize the expertise Chris needed was at London Health Sciences Centre, and he was quickly rushed by ambulance to the Trauma Program at LHSC’s Victoria Hospital.

Chris credits the program staff for saving his life. Within 30 minutes of his arrival he was rushed to the operating room. Over the next four days, Chris would undergo three surgeries to remove his spleen, 12 inches of lower intestine, and set his multiple broken bones with plates and screws.

While Chris remembers little of the 16 days he spent in the critical care unit, his care team certainly recalls how close he came to death. “When Chris arrived, his injuries were severe and complex, and carried a significant mortality risk,” says Lisa Harkness, a nurse practitioner who helped lead the team that treated Chris.

Now a year after the crash, Chris still visits with his trauma physician, Dr. Neil Parry in the trauma follow-up clinic. “Chris has worked extremely hard to make such a great recovery and there has also been a tremendous team effort from the trauma, orthopedic, rehabilitation and physiotherapy groups,” he notes.

Thanks to those efforts, today Chris has no lasting effects from his injuries. “I’ve had a very remarkable recovery,” he says from his office at Leavens Volkswagon where he is the general manager. “I’m fully recovered – totally fine.”

He’s bought a new all-terrain vehicle to replace the one that was destroyed in the crash, and continues to ride his snowmobile and fly his airplane.

He says having a trauma centre right here in London meant the difference between life and death. “Having this centre close to home means I’m alive and able to enjoy my life.”

Regional Trauma Program Photo

Regional Trauma Program


“Our job is to put ourselves out of business.”

Those are the sentiments that drive the efforts of Dr. Murray Girotti and the entire team at the Regional Trauma Program at London Health Sciences Centre as they treat critically injured patients while working to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.

The trauma program provides care for those patients whose trauma results in such severe injury that it is potentially life or limb threatening.

Trauma patients who live in London and the surrounding area are fortunate to have an established and well-rounded program, now in its twentieth year, right at their doorstep at Victoria Hospital. “If you’re seriously injured, there’s no other place you’d want to be,” says Dr. Girotti, the program’s medical director who has been working at LHSC since the program began in 1989.

With a focus on trauma care, injury prevention, as well as research and education, both adults and children receive care at LHSC and Children’s Hospital, two of the province’s 13 trauma centres.

Its approach to the clinical care team is unique –LHSC was only the second hospital in Canada to implement a team model led by an Advanced Practice Nurse. Since this model was adopted 13 years ago Lisa Harkness, a nurse practitioner, has been at the helm. “She’s like the glue that holds us all together,” says Dr. Girotti.

Harkness works with a rotating trauma resident and staff physician to oversee the care of each patient in the trauma program, whether they’re in hospital or being followed in the outpatient clinic. “Optimal trauma care extends from the emergency department through to our trauma follow-up clinic and requires the collaboration of a diverse and skilled multidisciplinary team,” she says from her office, taking a brief pause between patient visits.

Harkness’s unique experience has led other hospitals to seek her guidance in implementing similar programs. She has mentored two other nurse practitioners – one in Thunder Bay and the other in Vancouver – to help them establish similar models in their hospitals.

“This model of care results in better continuity for patients and a shorter length of stay,” says Harkness.

In addition to this innovative model, Dr. Girotti also believes the success of the program lies in its people, including administrative and clinical team leaders Kathrine Grant, Dr. Daryl Gray and Dr. Tim Carey. And as the trauma care team helps treat critically injured patients, other program members are always working behind the scenes on innovative research and education techniques.

Nine team members achieved success on an international stage in March at the Trauma 2009 conference in New Zealand, when three of the research papers presented won “best of ” in their respective categories.

“These awards demonstrate the culmination of hard work, innovative ideas and the right people supporting one another with a common goal of excellence in trauma care and research,” says Dr. Girotti.

One of these papers highlighted the IMPACT program, which turns 20 years old this year and helped establish LHSC as a regional trauma centre.

Standing for “Impaired Minds Produce Actions Causing Trauma,” IMPACT aims to reduce drinking and driving among teenagers and to heighten their awareness to the potential consequences of high-risk behaviour.

An in-class presentation is followed shortly after by an in-hospital mock trauma that takes place in front of a small group of unsuspecting students. Jane Harrington, the program’s coordinator, says she can remember the benefits of the program from when she received the presentation as a Grade 11 student herself. “This program really opens their eyes to what can happen. It’s extremely satisfying to see these kids start to get it.”

While drinking and driving rates have steadily declined during the 20 years of the program’s existence, Harrington says she knows it still has great value for the community. “This program will continue as long as we still see high-risk behaviour. We can’t just treat the resulting injuries, we need to prevent them in the first place.” Dr. Girotti says he couldn’t agree more and says he’ll continue in his job until the role of the trauma team is no longer needed.