Sox legend, Ron Kittle joined a Loyola trauma reunion at the annual "Loyola Big Save Barbecue" at Loyola University Medical Center on August 19, 2012. | Al Podgorski
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:35AM
Michael Smith fell 12 feet while trimming a tree; Robert Searcy flipped his motorcycle without a helmet; Steve and Marie Rolenc rolled their car several times after dodging a deer.
All of them wound up at the emergency room at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood — and all were among critically injured trauma patients who returned to Loyola Sunday for a free lunch and to share stories of their long road to recovery.
For extra inspiration, the hospital brought in former White Sox power hitter Ron Kittle, whose career nearly ended before it began when he broke his neck sliding into home after his first professional at-bat.
Searcy, 31, of Maywood, suffered brain damage and has trouble speaking but smiled broadly when Kittle told of his steelworker father coming home with a broken arm in a cast, then cutting the cast off with a steak knife so he could go back to work.
It was that same combination of toughness and determination that allowed Kittle to come back from three crushed vertebrae in his neck after doctors told him he would never play sports again.
“It just stuck in my head how important it is and how tough you’ve got to be,” Kittle said.
He went on to set minor league records and was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1983.
Kittle went on to an injury-plagued career and came back many times.
“I know, being injured, you need support from everybody, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be a tough cookie yourself,” the ballplayer said.
Michael Smith, 62, of Addison, had a bit of that same attitude following his fall from a ladder in which he broke his pelvis, leg and a bone at the base of his spine as well as puncturing a lung.
“I never thought I wouldn’t come back,” Smith said. “I thought it was a matter of you healed and you just were the way you were before.” And yet, his daughter said, “Three years later you’re still dealing with pain,” a comment Smith brushed off with a smile.
Marie Rolenc, 87, of Oak Lawn, who was flown to Loyola after a car accident in Indiana, nearly lost her left arm and wound up with an elbow joint replacement and a very long recovery. “I don’t like to dwell on it,” she said. “I like to get on with it.”
As the ex-patients talked to each other, Dr. Thomas Esposito, a surgeon who heads the trauma department at Loyola, put in a plug for trauma centers.
“There is scientific data to prove that if you’re treated at a trauma center with very severe injuries, your chances of survival are better and your quality of recovery is better than if you go to just any hospital.”
Treatment of trauma requires a different mindset, according to Jan Gillespie, a registered nurse who is trauma manager at Loyola. Unlike a lot of hospital procedures, trauma treatment isn’t planned, she said.
“Nobody goes out the door and says ‘I’m going to have a trauma today,’ ’’ Gillespie said. “Trauma patients, they end up on our doorstep, and we have to take care of them from step one.”
Gillespie also lamented that trauma is undervalued as a specialty.
“Nobody recognizes trauma care,” she said, citing US News and World Report’s rankings of almost every other hospital specialty but trauma. “There is no national standard for ‘This is the best trauma hospital,’ so were sort of working in a vacuum.”