Not long ago, Kathleen Hobin's goal was to walk down the street with her dog, Rocco. That may not sound like an impressive ambition, particularly for an avid athlete and mother of three, who loved to play tennis, run and ski. But for those who know this Madison woman, it was quite an accomplishment, given the events of the past few years.
At 5 p.m. on November 10, 2005, Hobin and her four-year-old nephew, John Petonito, stopped at the Petco store in North Haven to pick up dog food. After leaving the store, Hobin buckled her nephew into his car seat when an elderly driver mistook the gas pedal for the break and plowed into Hobin's SUV, pinning her under the car.
When the medics arrived on the scene, they were able to determine that Hobin and her nephew had severe trauma and needed to be taken to the nearest facility that could provide the highest level of trauma care. They immediately alerted the Yale-New Haven Trauma Center. The impact of the crash caused Hobin's tire to pop and the rim weighed on her legs. Hobin was conscious while rescuers extricated her from the wreckage.
When I picked up my head, I could see my right leg. It looked ugly," said Hobin. "There was a lot of pain and panic. All I could think about was 'where's my nephew?'"
Trauma Centers are built around the "golden hour" concept: survival can be greatly increased by the swift transport of trauma patients to advanced care facilities with immediately available surgical interventions to treat life-threatening conditions within one hour.
When Hobin arrived at the YNHH Trauma Center the team knew they had an almost impossible challenge.
"Mrs. Hobin endured the most serious injuries to nearly every part of her body," recalled David Lilienstein, M.D., emergency medicine senior resident. "She was alert and complaining of pain and asking about her nephew. Her legs were a nearly unrecognizable mass of flesh, bones and blood."
The boy's injuries were not as severe as his aunt's. He sustained a broken leg and a laceration to his ankle for which he was briefly admitted to Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital to care for his injuries. His injuries were quite minor in comparison to his aunt's.
"When I saw Mrs. Hobin, she struck a chord with me," said Dr. Lilienstein. "She was a woman about my age, doing something as ordinary as shopping at the pet store, had this horrible thing happen to her - an event that could happen to any of us. There was no high-risk behavior. She had children. I couldn't help but think, 'that could be my wife.'
Hobin suffered complex fractures to her right arm, pelvis, lung and vertebrae. Both of her legs were badly injured. She had no pulse in her right leg. Within the hour, Hobin was in the operating room where doctors had no choice but to amputate her right leg and begin the life-saving measures to save her left leg.
"Most people don't realize how devastating trauma can be," said Lewis Kaplan, M.D., director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Surgical Critical Care Fellowship at YNHH and the Yale School of Medicine. "To put it in perspective, trauma is the cause of the most years of life lost in the US - more than cancer, heart disease or any other condition that we treat."
For the next four weeks, Hobin was connected to a breathing machine using advanced ventilation techniques and required heavy sedation and pain control while allowing her leg and body to heal.
On January 20, 2006, more than two months after the crash, Hobin left YNHH for five months of inpatient physical and occupational therapy at Gaylord Hospital and Laurel Woods Rehabilitation Center.
"The people and care at Yale-New Haven were fantastic," Hobin said. "They were so supportive and kind to me and my family. Dr. Lilienstein checked on me every day, 'how are you, are you eating?' He's my new friend."
"What makes Kathleen so special is her will not only to live, but to live life," said Dr. Lilienstein. "She has had ups and downs with the healing process, but has never said, 'why me?' She truly views every step of the healing process as a challenge to overcome, not a weight holding her back. I cannot emphasize enough how her attitude toward life and her goals of getting better have contributed to her amazing progress. She never gives up. When someone asks, 'what are the traits that make a survivor?' The answer is found in Kathleen."