When Nathaniel Webster fell asleep while smoking a cigarette, the resulting burns that covered two-thirds of his body were so severe his doctors gave him virtually no chance at survival.
Webster’s doctor at Kendall Regional Medical Center recorded the details of his case in a burn registry, and documented the grim prognosis: “His mortality rate was calculated at 100 percent,” said Dr. Carlos Medina. Two days after Webster arrived, his organs began shutting down, and the hospital suggested the man’s son, 38-year-old Edward Webster, consider calling a priest.
But then Webster began to rally. And on Wednesday, the 67-year-old Miami man was reunited with the hospital staff he credits with saving his life at a celebration of Trauma Awareness Day, so named in a proclamation by Gov. Rick Scott. Trauma, such as car crashes, are the leading cause of death among Floridians ages 1-44.
In recognition of the day, staff at Kendall Regional presented medals to former patients, many of whom had beaten extremely difficult odds. The hospital also unveiled a short video it created along with educators at nearby G. Holmes Braddock High School. Produced by student actors and staff members from both the hospital and school, the seven-minute video illustrates the dangers of mixing drugs and alcohol with driving.
Called Prom Promise, the video ends badly for four students who share drugs before driving recklessly. It encourages teens to enjoy year-end festivities without the drugs or alcohol that can cause wrecks.
“I always have the attitude that nothing is going to happen to me,” said 17-year-old Ritchie Rodriguez, one of the actors at Braddock High. “I thought I would grow old and die like a normal person. I never thought I’d get into a car accident.” Working on the video, which the hospital plans to screen for area high schoolers, “taught me to appreciate my life.”
Added a castmate, 16-year-old Libia Batista: “You never know what will happen to you. This experience is as close as I want to get to that.”
Florida trauma centers, such as the one at Kendall, treat 40,000 trauma victims each year, with about 70 percent of them returning home. The statewide mortality rate from trauma declined from 6.8 percent in 2004 to 4.9 percent in 2010, the governor’s office said.
Carmen Molina-Churchman visited the hospital last September to visit a student from Braddock, where she works as an advisor. But she returned the next January after suffering a brain hemorrhage, she said. Like the former student, who now studies at Miami-Dade College, Molina-Churchman returned to her family, after spending a week in intensive care. She now campaigns against drug and alcohol abuse, and played the role of a mom in the hospital’s prevention video.
“They saved my life. I am here today because of them,” Molina-Churchman said.
Last May 9, Nathaniel Webster drank a little too much, and fell asleep with a lit cigarette. He awoke to find his home ablaze, and paramedics ushering him into a waiting ambulance. “I invited myself to a one-person barbeque, and I was the entree,” Webster quipped.
Burns covered 67 percent of his body, and he spent seven weeks in an induced coma. Surgeons performed 30 separate operations. “We thought we had no chance to pull this off,” Medina said. “We would do our best, but it was in God’s hands.”
Returning to Kendall Regional almost exactly a year later, Webster said he’s made some serious changes: He doesn’t drink any more. And he doesn’t smoke. He’s spending more time with his three grandkids.
“I’m just so grateful they were here,” Webster said of the hospital’s staff.