(pictured above: Emma Vlossak surrounded by members of Bend Fire and Rescue)
“My only job right now is to breathe.”
That’s what Emma Vlossak told herself as she lay in a ditch off Alfalfa Market Road east of Bend, unable to move, after being struck by an SUV while riding her bike.
Now, nearly a year later, Vlossak is “alive, upright and can hold (her) children again” and, for that, she feels tremendous gratitude.
Up until the day she was hit on her bike, Vlossak had experienced trauma primarily as part of a team that cares for patients with severe injuries. She spent 10 years as a trauma nurse, three years at St. Charles, serving in the emergency department, after that working as a house supervisor and as a nurse manager in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
When she entered St. Charles Bend’s Emergency Department as a patient last June, Vlossak was surrounded by people she considers family.
“I got to experience being cared for by my family,” she said. “These are the people I was in the trenches with. From the moment the fire crew picked me up to the time I was in recovery, I was surrounded by and cared for by our medical community, who are also my work family. Our caregivers and the Bend Fire crews do not just show up to work, they are deeply committed to the health of our community.”
This week, Vlossak shared her story as part of the first Trauma Survivors Day event at St. Charles Bend, where approximately 50 people including surgeons, nurses, emergency responders, clerical staff and others had a chance to connect with people who had needed their care.
The goal is for Trauma Survivors Day to become an annual event and to kick off a new Trauma Survivors Support Network for Central Oregon.
Meeting former patients is an important opportunity for emergency caregivers to experience connection and closure, said Michelle Brenholdt, St. Charles’ director of Emergency and Trauma Services for Bend and Redmond.
“We are here when patients are having their worst day, but we don’t get to see them when they are back having their best day,” she said. “To meet a survivor, that’s what fills our cups, knowing we played a role in it.”
Connecting with trauma survivors “is like therapy for us,” said Trauma Medical Director Dr. Marika Gassner, who saw one of her former patients, Richard Macias, at the event.
“To see Rich walk in doing so well, it’s enormous,” she said.
Macias was excited to attend Trauma Survivors Day so he could thank all of his caregivers. He developed a relationship with them during his long recovery after falling from a roof late last year.
“It didn’t feel like strangers were taking care of me. The people here, they felt like an extended family," said Macias, who now has 11 plates and 86 screws in his new rib section.
“I just have so much appreciation for everyone,” he said. “I’m so glad I landed here.”