OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center

Rockford, Illinois

Patient Stories

Orthopedic Trauma Care at Work: How a Sycamore couple got back on their feet after a severe car crash

It started as an exciting day for Phil and Barb Johnson. It was April 10, 2015, and they were going to meet their 3-day-old granddaughter for the first time, when they picked up their daughter from O’Hare Airport. 

But just a mile from their Sycamore home, the couple’s plans were shattered when a driver under the influence of drugs and alcohol hit a pick-up truck that slammed into the Johnson’s car.

First responders got Barb out of the car relatively easily, but Phil had to be extracted from the twisted vehicle. Barb was taken to nearby Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, while Phil was flown by OSF LifeFlight helicopter to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center, a Level 1 Trauma Center. Barb was later transported to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony.

Phil arrived in bad shape, with nearly no blood pressure, having lost eight pints of blood.

A retiree who served for 12 years as the director of accounting for the KishHealth System, Phil, 66, is familiar with how care coordination can go well or go poorly. He believes the care he and his wife Barb, 67, received was spot on.

“I’ve been around health care and I’ve seen some of the good and some of the bad, but with Barb and me it was just like clockwork,” Phil said. “The right people were handed to us.”

The Johnsons also believe a higher power watched over them that day and helped to make a lot of things to go right after the accident. The weather cooperated so OSF LifeFlight could land at the crash scene, plus friends and acquaintances were part of the responder teams and were able to arrange for somebody to get to O’Hare and pick up the Johnson’s daughter.

Phil believes it was God’s hand that sent the couple to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony, an American College of Surgeons Verified Trauma Center, where they could benefit from the exclusive partnership between OSF and leading orthopedic specialists in Rockford.

“It was the hand of God that gave use some of the best orthopedic surgeons, who were working at that trauma center,” Phil said.

Phil suffered fractures to multiple vertebrae in his neck and extreme pelvic trauma, including a broken right hip and a broken left leg. Barb suffered fractures to her face, both tibia, a couple ribs, her left arm and her left clavicle. They were both treated by the same surgeons, Jeffrey Earhart, MD, and Mark Barba, MD.

Barb was able to have her surgeries within a week of the crash. Phil’s ordeal, however, took much longer. After Dr. Earhart fixed Phil’s pelvis, Phil had to wait several weeks, before he could have a hip replacement, due to his unhealed wounds.

“I don't think it ever passed our minds that we would be hindered going forward,” Phil said. “But I did get a little down when my hip surgery was delayed so many times.”

Frustrated by the continual delays in the procedure, and tired of the long hospital stay, Phil sought a second opinion. Phil was told, “You've got the best guy. Go with Barba.”

Finally, Phil was cleared for surgery and he had his hip replacement in late August that year. All told, Barb was in the hospital for 120 days and Phil was in the hospital for 156 days. They formed bonds with the staff, which was evident in the emotional reactions the staff had to Phil’s first steps.

“After I was moved to the orthopedics floor, the nurses would wheel me back up every day to ICU to see Phil,” Barb said. “It was so great to see some of the nurses there the day Phil walked again for the first time.”

According to Phil and Barb, several weeks after the surgery during a routine follow-up appointment, Dr. Barba was wowed by how far along the couple had come since their procedures. He took video of Phil’s mobility and shared it with Dr. Earhart.

“Dr. Barba told me, ‘You two have responded like no other patients have. This is what we do it for. It's for these high points,’" Phil said.

By Valentine’s Day weekend 2016, the Johnsons were ready to throw a party to celebrate their ability to ditch Phil’s walker and Barb’s cane. They invited not only their family and friends, but their caregivers, too.

The couple can now walk and bend just as well as anyone their age.

“I walk up and down stairs and people can't believe I was in a car accident,” Phil said. “That's how good the coordination of care was, from the helicopter to the trauma physician and staff to the intensive care people and all the way through. It was just an amazing display of coordination.”