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N.H. hospital achieves Level III-N Trauma Center designation

Southern New Hampshire Medical Center is one of only two Level III trauma centers in the state


Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

Southern New Hampshire Medical Center/Facebook

By Roberta Baker
The New Hampshire Union Leader

NASHUA, N.H. — It was a freak occurrence — a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, a year later, thanks to quick EMTs and timely neurosurgery at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center’s trauma center, Celia Robinson’s traffic accident has an inspiring hereafter.

In April, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center was officially designated as a Level III-N Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. SNHMC is one of only two American College of Surgeons (ACS) Level III trauma centers in New Hampshire, and the only ACS Level III verified hospital with neurosurgical capabilities, according to a news release.

Robinson of Hudson, age 21 at the time, was driving south on Route 3 with her boyfriend to get something to eat in Lowell, Mass., after an early round of mini golf the morning of June 24, 2023. An intoxicated driver, speeding at 100 mph in the wrong direction, crashed head-on into their truck near Exit 7W. A second vehicle struck them from behind. Robertson was ejected through a split in the side door.

“I ended up breaking about every bone in my body,” she said later. “I never had any broken bones or a concussion before. The first time I broke a bone it happened to be all of them at once.”

The impact had broken the bones below Robinson’s knees, her right foot, her left ankle. her pelvis, her left shoulder and several vertebrae in her spine. Her boyfriend, later diagnosed with a concussion, picked her up and carried her off the roadway. Luckily first responders were on the way, alerted to the northbound speeder in a southbound lane.

Within a half-hour, Robinson was in neurosurgery at SNHMC in Nashua, the state’s first and only Level 3 trauma center with general surgery, anesthesiology and neurosurgery available 24/7 on-site. This meant she did not have to ride by ambulance to Elliot Hospital in Manchester or Lahey Hospital in Burlington, Mass. when the clock was ticking and prompt, high-level surgery was required to mitigate lasting damage.

“How fast I got to the hospital and got surgery really worked in my favor,” she said. “The only thing I still have other than aches and pains is a tight ankle” supported by a brace to correct an angled right foot. “My brain’s luckily all there.”

Dr. Tung Nguyen, a neurosurgeon at SNHMC’s trauma center, said “If you can think of any trauma to the body, that’s what we deal with.”

That includes motor vehicle crashes, pedestrians and cyclists hit by cars, people who slip and fall on wet bathroom floors, and patients with skull fractures, bleeding inside and outside the brain, blood clots, brain bruises, spinal injuries or spinal cord compressions that prevent arm and leg movement.

Because her injuries were serious and extensive, Robinson’s outcome would have been much riskier had she traveled further for care, her physician told her. Going to Massachusetts was out of the question.

When she arrived at SNHMC, she could still speak, open her eyes and follow directions, Nguyen said. She had a skull fracture and a leaking blood vessel. A blood clot between her skull and brain was poised to expand. She didn’t lose cognition, but tests showed her brain activity was less than normal.

Nguyen made a cut over the skull fracture and elevated part of the skull bone. He removed a significant blood clot and sutured the brain’s cover to the wall of Robinson’s skull so the clot couldn’t re-expand. She was then transferred to SNHMC’s Dr. Edward Serlin III , an orthopedic surgeon, for multiple bone repairs throughout her body.

“There was speculation that I wasn’t going to be able to walk again,” Robinson said. “I’m very lucky I was sent to Southern. I’m not a big person on doctors and surgeons and such. A lot of people had to calm me down when this was happening.”

During neurosurgery at the trauma center, which involves repairs to the brain, spinal cord and nerve roots, an interoperative CT scanner, the only device of its kind in New Hampshire, shows surgeons what’s going on inside. Three physicians and six nurse practitioners and physician assistants make up SNHMC’s neurosurgery team at one of the two Level 3 trauma centers in the state (the other is Catholic Medical Center ).

According to a news release from Solution Health, patients cared for at ACS-verified trauma centers have a lower risk of death and improved life quality compared to patients at non-verified centers.

“I was walking on my own by the end of September,” Robinson said.

“I owe it all to them.”

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