Rocky Mountain Physician Group

Itali Hernandez

Heyburn woman thanks 25 ‘guardian angels’ at PMC for saving her life

By Shelbie Harris

POCATELLO — Itati Hernandez believes she wouldn’t have survived a serious car accident without the care and attention from more than two dozen dedicated Portneuf Medical Center staff members.

The 21-year-old Heyburn woman — now three months removed from being transported to the hospital in an air ambulance with fears of not walking again — never forgot the caregivers who helped to save her life.

Hernandez returned to PMC on Thursday afternoon to personally thank each staff member and to present them all with their own “guardian angel” pin — a caduceus symbol that features two snakes winding around a winged staff.

Following the accident in Minidoka County near Burley, Hernandez spent several weeks at PMC recovering from several critical injuries.

“I just want to give back to the people who took care of me, because if it was not for you guys, I would not be alive right now,” Hernandez said. “My injuries were major, so here is a really big thank you, especially from my family. To be able to be with them for the holidays and to be here in front of you is a really big opportunity. Thank you. You guys were amazing. You guys were miracle makers.”

During the award ceremony, PMC spokesman Todd Blackinton detailed the extent of Hernandez’s injures, which included a broken clavicle, three broken ribs, two fractured vertebrae, a broken knee with torn ligaments, lacerations to her kidney and spleen and a collapsed lung.

The crash happened on Interstate 84 at about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 7. Hernandez was riding in the passenger seat when the driver of the vehicle saw a deer dart across the road. The driver swerved to miss the deer, overcorrected and lost control of the car.

The vehicle rolled several times. Hernandez, who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, was ejected from the vehicle and was discovered by emergency medical responders about 20 feet away from the car.

“Itati was critically injured in a motor vehicle crash out on I-84 near Burley,” said Drew McRoberts, PMC trauma director.

“She was stabilized at the scene by a Life Flight crew and then brought into us. She had injuries pretty much from head to toe that were very significant.”

Immediately upon her arrival to PMC, trauma center staff acted quickly to ensure Hernandez survived the crash.

“She was unable to breathe on her own and required us to take control of her breathing and to make sure that she had not lost too much blood,” McRoberts said. “She underwent an extensive evaluation and management in the emergency department and then was admitted by our trauma team. She subsequently required numerous surgical procedures to stabilize broken bones including her back, pelvis and lower extremities.”

After Hernandez was stabilized, she spent an additional 17 days at PMC recovering from her injuries. Blackinton said when Hernandez approached him two months ago to see how she could go about thanking the staff who saved her life, she was confined to a wheelchair.

On Thursday, Hernandez stood tall, albeit wearing supportive back and knee braces.

“The big thing with injuries like hers is whether you have injuries that are going to cause significant chronic problems,” McRoberts said. “Her spine was unstable and had to be fused. Otherwise, she was at risk of (being paralyzed). In addition, she had a significant traumatic brain injury, which did not require surgery, and which her brain has subsequently recovered very well. Certainly, any of those could have been more extreme than they were.”

In total, Hernandez thanked and provided pins to 25 staff members at PMC. Hernandez said the 25 people were the ones she specifically remembers sharing stories about their families or plans for their weekend, making the several weeks she spent away from home much more bearable.

“There are certain registered nurses, CNAs and doctors who would come in, and I got really close to them,” Hernandez said. “We would have conversations about the day, their weekend plans or their own family memories, and it just makes you feel like you are at home. With them being around, it made everything better.”

In more than two decades at PMC, McRoberts has never had a patient personally give gifts to everyone who played a role in his or her recovery.

“I’ve been the trauma director for 24 years, and this is first time anybody has came back and handpicked gifts for the people who take care of them,” McRoberts said. “Certainly it makes us all feel very, very good. Itati deserves a lot of the credit because, while I’m sure that all of our patients who recover from injuries like this feel grateful, few of them ever make the effort to come back and publicly acknowledge us in the way that she did. And that by itself is very special.”

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