University of Vermont Medical Center

University of Vermont Medical Center Launches New Support Network for Trauma Survivors

At a kickoff event for the initiative, a man who survived a dramatic fall spoke about the value of peer support

A new initiative at Vermont’s largest hospital is aimed at better supporting trauma patients through potentially life-changing events like major car crashes or falls.

To do so, they’re turning to the people who best know what it’s like to survive those challenges.

“I’m thankful to be alive,” said Steve Charest, who survived a 60-foot fall in late December while ice climbing in Smugglers’ Notch.

A key piece of climbing equipment failed before the fall, Charest said.

“I broke my jaw, my eye socket; my skull,” Charest said, adding that he also suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury.

The experienced mountaineer and climbing instructor told necn the level one trauma unit at the University of Vermont Medical Center gave him excellent physical care, but that was just part of his recovery.

“The mental component is often the crux, or the most difficult piece,” Charest said.

The climber said following his injury, he was quite worried about long-term physical impacts from his accident. He said climbers from around Vermont and the world helped boost him, by providing encouragement and advice on bouncing back from serious injuries.

Wednesday, the University of Vermont Medical Center announced it is launching a new trauma survivors network. The announcement came at an event featuring Charest as a speaker.

“We’re more focused on people’s mental health, not just their physical needs,” said Jen Gratton, the manager of the UVM trauma program, describing increasing attention paid in recent years to broadening the unit’s approach.

Gratton said under the new initiative, trauma survivors will volunteer to visit new patients. The thinking is: who could better know what they’re facing, with hurdles like mobility impairments?

“And also to give them a light at the end of the tunnel, like, ‘You can survive this—you can do it.’”

Finn Thomas, 9, of Williston, spent 50 days in the hospital in 2017 when a freak bike accident caused severe internal damage.

Thomas' family said he is willing to lend a hand if nurses think any kids in the trauma center would benefit from talking to him.

“I did go through a lot of stuff,” the elementary schooler said of his hospital stay and surgeries. “It would just help people who are in the hospital right now feel better about they’re not the only one who’s been through this stuff.”

As for the climber, he said he’s taking steps to return to his favorite sport, adding that he is grateful for the UVM Medical Center’s approach to putting patients and their families at the center of treatment.

“It’s been kind of all positive recovery so far,” Charest said of the five months since his fall.

For more information on the new trauma survivors network at the University of Vermont Medical Center, contact the hospital’s trauma services department at 802-847-5206.

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