Putting the Pieces Back Together

By kelly

Joyce Randof, RN, reunites with Betsy Parkinson, a patient she helped care for in July 2010. Parkinson doesn’t remember her four-week hospital stay but heard from her family all the things Randof had taken care of and was excited to meet her.

Betsy Parkinson of Little Rock had 27 fractures in her skull when she came to the UAMS Emergency Department on June 29, 2010. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” weren’t available to put her back together, but, thankfully, the staff at UAMS was.

Dr. Moody, Dr.Westfall and the amazing emergency room doctors and nurses pretty much ‘Humpty-Dumptied’ me back together again,” said Parkinson. “I smashed my collar bone, broke two bones in my arm, had a collapsed lung, and the right side of my head was crushed.”

She was driving alone on North Lookout Street in Little Rock, when, according to police investigators, she apparently swerved to miss an oncoming car and went up the embankment of the steep, windy road. Her car then flipped several times as it rolled down the hill, landing back on the road.

A neighbor heard the crash and called 9-1-1. Because of the severity of her injuries, Parkinson was taken immediately to the UAMS Emergency Department, where she was admitted as a Jane Doe.

“A close family friend was one of the ER docs, and he didn’t even recognize me,” said Parkinson. “He didn’t know it was me until he saw his parents in the waiting room and asked them why they were there.”

“We weren’t even sure Betsy was going to make it for the first 48 hours,” said her father, Bill Parkinson, who was out of the country when the accident happened. “To see her today is just amazing. We are so grateful for the care she received at UAMS – from the emergency room doctors who first treated her to the ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, therapists and orthopedists who have helped her return to her life – they’re all incredible. We are so blessed that these people were all there for Betsy.”

Betsy Parkinson says she feels not only blessed to be alive and able to do everything she did before the accident, but also blessed to not remember anything from the four weeks she spent in the hospital.

“Apparently, a large head trauma can make you pretty grouchy,” she said. “I don’t remember anything, but I’ve been told stories about things I said and did. My brothers were all here with me, and they’ve had a great time teasing me about all these things I don’t remember. I guess I told people they were fired or that they were grounded. That’s so not me . . .”

“Immediately after the accident, Betsy was sedated so she wasn’t talking, and we weren’t sure how much brain damage there was,” said Bill Parkinson. “They had to put a bolt in her head to release pressure, and she was on a vent, so there was very little communication and we had no idea what she’d be like when she woke up.

“You can only imagine our joy when they asked her four questions to test her cognitive ability and she aced them all,” he said. “She not only knew her social security number, but also went on to explain that she knew it so well because of her student ID number at Baylor. The doctors were a little surprised by a head trauma patient whose mental abilities came back so quickly.

“In fact,” he said, “Betsy heard the doctors and nurses explain her condition and quiz residents so often that she’d answer the questions herself or correct them if they missed a detail or left something out.”

“I don’t remember my hospital stay, but I do remember tons of followup visits,” said Betsy Parkinson. “And, I remember lots of questions from students and residents. I guess I was very interesting because of all my injuries. But I think a hospital teaching that way is amazing.

“I can tell they’ll be great doctors, ones I would choose to be my doctor in the future” she said. “They were asking really good questions and were intent on learning new things. It’s wonderful – for that I’ll answer 15 people all day. I could tell they were thinking ‘Look at this girl. Can you believe she’s still alive?’ and not only is that humbling, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

The most amazing part of Parkinson’s recovery – besides the fact that she’s alive – is how she looks. “Half of my head was crushed from what I understand,” she said. “They had to rebuild my nose and my eye socket, and now I have this brilliant prosthetic eye. Because of the amazing work of Dr. (Christopher) Westfall in rebuilding the base and attaching all the muscles, my false eye even tracks with my real one.

“Initially, when they weren’t sure I’d even make it, they just left my mangled eyeball in the socket until they could get permission to remove it,” said Parkinson. “They were concerned that the damaged eye might impact the vision in my good eye. My brother had to give them permission to remove it. I cannot imagine having to make that decision for one of my brothers – he is a very strong and wise man. Once I was out of critical care, one of the first surgeries they did within that first week was to attach an artificial base to the muscles before they started to atrophy.”

“We are incredibly blessed that Dr. Westfall was there for Betsy,” said Bill Parkinson. “He’s one of the best doctors in the country for this type of delicate surgery, and thanks to his work most people would never suspect that both of those eyes aren’t Betsy’s.”

Dr. Marcus Moody rebuilt Parkinson’s face, including her nose and eye socket, using titanium mesh, and her eyelid was stitched shut during the healing process. When the bones and muscles had healed enough, Dan Eaton, a Little Rock ocularist, fitted her with her first prosthetic eye.

She’s now on her third or fourth eye. “Who knew?” she said. “You kind of have to keep adjusting these things. They really are trying to make it perfect.”

An orthopedic surgeon fixed all the broken bones below the neck. “I’ve got screws and plates all over,” said Parkinson. “They’re in my left collar bone and my right arm. When my arm was put back together there was a piece of bone that was missing – just nothing there. It was amazing to watch it grow back on the x-rays.

“First, there was just this giant black gap, then it turned gray, and now it’s finally white where the bone regrew.”

Parkinson travels around the world as part of her job with Dillard’s. “Nothing happens at security,” she said. “I fly at least two times a month, and even with all the plates and screws in me, I’ve never set off any alarms.

“The first time I went through security, they didn’t say anything, and I stopped and looked back at the security staff, waiting for them to call me back. One of them just looked at me and said ‘Can I help you?’ I smiled and said ‘no’ and kept walking.”

“Considering how serious my injuries were, my life is completely normal now,” she said. “My depth perception is a little skewed and I run into doors occasionally, but I still run, I go to a sculpting class, and I travel to Asia and Europe. My life is insanely, amazingly normal. It’s a miracle.

“I believe the reason I’m alive today is that God isn’t finished with what he has for me to do for him yet,” said Parkinson. “The good Lord worked through the doctors and nurses at UAMS to save me, and I’m forever grateful for all they did for me and my family.

“I wish I remembered more and could thank them all, but all I remember is being home and being humbly thankful,” she said. “I know there were a lot of incredible doctors and residents who worked on me, and I know that Joyce Randof is one of the people who was always there making sure everything was OK – she was like a little angel for our family.

“My life today is directly attributable to the staff at UAMS – God working through them,” she said. “What’s so strange is that I know all this second hand – I’m grateful I don’t remember.

“I love UAMS. You know, I should put that on a t-shirt,” said Parkinson, a fashion designer. “‘I heart UAMS’ with a big sparkly heart . . .”