UAMS Trauma Team Helps Save Sherwood Man after 30-Foot Fall

By Ben Boulden

They didn’t anticipate the accident or the sight of the severe injuries he received from it.

“You don’t expect to hear he fell off a 30-foot ladder,” his wife, Alissa Pretty, said Nov. 28 as he was being released from UAMS Medical Center. “You think, ‘OK, he fell off a ladder, broken leg or broken arm.’ NOT, covered in blood with a traumatic brain injury from which he might never wake up.”

For saving the life of her husband, she credited the quick action of the lighting crew, the EMS team that responded to the scene and the UAMS trauma care team that quickly assessed him and rushed him into surgery. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state.

“It was very, very nerve-wracking, scary, life-changing,” she said. “Everything flashes in front of you like: What is it going to be like for our child? What does that mean for her life? He’s the glue of our family, and we can’t imagine life without him, so you go through that multiple times in that process.”

Katie Kimbrough, M.D., trauma surgeon and associate professor in the Division of Trauma and Critical Care Surgery at UAMS Medical Center, treated Pretty after his arrival at UAMS. Amazingly, he had no broken arms or legs, although he had bilateral rib fractures. However, his condition was unstable, and he had trouble breathing. His oxygen level was dropping rapidly, and he required a life-saving surgical procedure called a cricothyroidotomy to place the breathing tube. The team in the Emergency Department worked together seamlessly to get this procedure done safely and quickly to stabilize his airway and provide him with much needed oxygen.

A neurosurgeon and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Neurosurgery, Viktoras Palys, M.D., said he had been on call and just finished performing emergency surgery on another patient when Pretty was brought in. A CT scan revealed he had facial fractures, multiple skull fractures and an epidural hematoma — a bleed between the skull and brain, he said. If not treated quickly, the blood clot can reach a life-threatening size.

By the time Alissa and her daughter Gracie made it to UAMS, Josh Pretty was in the trauma bay in the Emergency Department. Mother and daughter were taken into the family room to meet with a chaplain, which Alissa said initially made her fear the worst. Instead, she was given a few minutes with her husband. There was still so much blood and obvious trauma that she didn’t want their daughter to see him.

“Before surgery, we told him we loved him,” Alissa said. “We told him how strong he was. He was blood-covered, but he had tears streaming down his face. I kissed his cheek. As scary as that was, I knew it possibly could be the last kiss and last chance to touch him while he was alive.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t the last kiss. Surgery came next, and Palys and the UAMS surgical team acted successively to stop the bleeding and remove blood clot just in time.

Tense, anxious moments remained though. When Pretty was brought out of sedation, he failed to wake up when expected. That prompted his wife to worry that he might live but never again be fully conscious.

Almost exactly one week after surgery, at 11 p.m. Nov. 19, Pretty opened his eyes and started asking what had happened and where he was.

Although the family originally was told Pretty might need to stay at UAMS until the end of the year, he was ready for transfer to a rehabilitation hospital on Nov. 28.

According to a social media post from Alissa Pretty, Josh Pretty was discharged from inpatient rehabilitation after only week, and on Dec. 9, even attended a local, live performance of “The Nutcracker.”

“If it hadn’t been for how fast everyone acted and how much they took care of him, we wouldn’t be sitting here doing this interview,” Alissa said just before the transfer. “They got him to the best trauma center in the state.”

“It’s been amazing,” Gracie said. “I did not think we would get this far this fast. I was hopeful but still realistic. Now that I have seen him recover to this point, it’s been fantastic to see.”

During the warm weather months, the Prettys have a lawn care business. In 2018, they started offering customized holiday lighting and have grown that part of the business into a list of about 100 customers. They want to keep expanding that base, and despite the accident, they plan to keep offering the service.

“If he could have a dream job, then it would be Santa,” Alissa said. “All three of us have matching Christmas tattoos. It’s a big part of who we are.”

Asked if he has any safety advice for other hanging Christmas lights, Josh said with a half-smile, “Don’t fall off a ladder. Other than that, no.”