Trauma Center Patient Story: Katie Mistarz

Katie MistarzIn December 2004, Katie Mistarz of Northbrook, Illinois, drove with a friend to East Troy, Wisconsin. It was shortly after Christmas and the 18-year-old college student was looking forward to a few hours of snowboarding at Alpine Valley. On her first run of the day, however, the fun turned life-threatening. “I can remember going halfway down the hill,” she says. “After that, I don’t remember anything.”

Near the bottom of the hill, Katie hit a four-by-four fence post. The force of the impact fractured her left leg, broke two of her ribs and knocked her unconscious. A bystander called 911 and the ski patrol arrived. “I came to and saw my friend near me,” says Katie. “She told me everything was going to be OK.”

Emergency personnel took Katie by ambulance to Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. There, X-rays revealed that she had broken her femur — the strongest bone in the human body. The high energy of the impact heightened her risk of death. Doctors also determined she had a punctured lung, a situation that can easily turn fatal.

Katie needed advanced trauma care. Around 2:00 pm, she was transported by Flight For Life to Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin.

Region’s Top Trauma Center

Katie’s parents, Jeff and Lou Ann Mistarz, watched as the helicopter lifted off and disappeared into the sky. They had found out about the accident just two hours earlier, when Katie’s friend used her cell phone to call from the back of the ambulance. As Katie headed north by Flight For Life, her mom and dad hopped in their car for the 45-minute drive to Froedtert.

Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin is the only adult Level I Trauma Center in eastern Wisconsin. It offers around-the-clock access to medical services and equipment most important for injury care, not readily available anywhere else.

One key component of the Trauma Center is its highly trained orthopaedic surgery team. After Katie arrived and was prepped, the team worked for about three hours to repair her shattered femur by inserting a rod and screws. When it was all over, Katie was wheeled to a recovery room — and the lead surgeon headed to the family lounge to tell Jeff and Lou Ann that everything had gone well.

“I Had Everything I Needed” 

After a few days, Katie began rehabilitation therapy with the initial goal of just being able to sit up. Physical therapy and occupational therapy therapists eventually showed her how to get dressed, brush her teeth and walk with a walker and crutches. Katie says the nurses who cared for her were excellent. “They were really attentive,” she says. “They made sure I had everything I needed.”

Katie was in the hospital for more than a week. Her mom remained by her side the entire time, and her dad drove back and forth between the hospital and the family home. “I don’t really remember the first few days,” says Katie. “I just remember waking up a couple of times.” During her stay, Katie received care from several trauma and orthopaedic specialists. “They were all really great,” says Lou Ann. “I thought the hospital was excellent — all the care Katie received was top-notch.”

After being discharged, Katie’s recovery continued at a brisk pace. She was off pain killers in just three days and could walk with crutches after a month. Her lungs were soon healthy, and in another few weeks she was able to place her full weight on her injured leg. By the beginning of April she was feeling perfectly fine.

Back in Step

Katie missed the spring semester of her freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington, but she was soon making plans to return in the fall to continue her studies and get back in step next to her friends in the marching band.

Lou Ann Mistarz is very grateful for the care and attention her daughter received at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin: “We can’t say enough for everybody at the Trauma Center — we were lucky to go to that hospital.”