It was a magical sight Thursday outside Trident Medical Center as yellow and orange painted lady butterflies fluttered throughout the courtyard beside the cancer treatment building.

“What we’re doing today is we’re trying to give thanks for our celebration of our trauma (employees) and first responders here with us so that we can talk about what wonderful staff we have,” said Jodi Barteet, vice president of emergency services and operations for Trident Health, the umbrella group over Trident Medical. “We appreciate everything that they do with their lives in jeopardy on an everyday basis.”

Once liberated, some of the delicate creatures soared toward the sunny, blue sky; while others gently landed on nearby plants and people. Together their release symbolized the end of May’s Trauma Awareness Month designation for the Level 2 trauma hospital—as well as the resurgence of new life.

“Butterflies often represent a sign of hope,” said William Dutton, medical director for the hospital’s trauma program. “It makes an interesting story for how the trauma patient may come in, have their initial injuries that may require a period of time for them to recover; and when they leave, they go on to rehab facilities and re-begin their lives. So we’re reawakening.”

"A symbol of hope': Trident staff release butterflies signaling end of Trauma Month

Two flight paramedics watch as the butterflies they set free flutter into the air.

The designation is a prestigious one the hospital’s celebrated since obtaining it in spring 2016, when it became one of two Level 2 trauma hospitals in South Carolina—the other McLeod Medical Center in Florence.

Two years earlier, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had suggested the hospital seek trauma status. Trident officials said paramedics at the time were voicing concerns that taking the extra time to drive to Medical University of South Carolina, a Level 1 trauma center, was risking patients’ lives.

According to Todd Gallati, CEO of Trident Health Systems, over the last few years Trident Medical’s trauma program has been one of Trident Health’s shining achievements.

“There’s so many programs within the health system—probably not one that is more impactful to our community than trauma,” he said. “It really did change the complexion of our hospital. …It amped us up; it brought us to a place clinically that we had not been before and prepared us for taking care of some very acutely-injured and ill patients.”

Gallati also boasted that Trident Medical ranks among the top five trauma programs in the HCA Healthcare system. Nearly half of the 180 hospitals included in HCA have a trauma designation.

“That’s a testament to our (Trident) team,” Gallati said.

Barteet agreed, touting the North Charleston-based hospital’s life-saving service to the community.

“We’ve been very successful with this program since we’ve started,” she said.

In 2018 alone, Trident Medical treated 1,854 trauma patients and trauma staff expect to see a much higher number for 2019—stats already up by 10 percent from last year, according to Dutton.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth over the past last three years and looking at the numbers from this year, we’re going to be even higher,” he said. “We’re seeing more activations; we’re seeing more traumas in the ER.”

Trauma staff expect numbers to particularly rise during the hot weather season.

“People are getting out; they’re seeing the sun out; they’re often times getting on motorcycles that they haven’t been on during the winter months,” Dutton said, “and we see more injuries from that. And they also play into the penetrating injuries. Tempers can flare, and there can be a bit more action when it’s (doggone) hot outside.

According to Dutton, who graduated medical school in 1997 before serving as a commander and surgeon in the U.S. Navy, he can’t imagine serving in any other career field.

“I really just can’t imagine doing anything else,” Dutton said. “Taking somebody from often times their worst point in their life and helping them to restart their life or reengage their life is important to me.”

With its Level 2 distinction, Trident is one of the main hospitals providing acute trauma care in the Lowcountry, outside of MUSC.

“Fifty-percent of all trauma patients that are impacted in the area come to Trident Medical,” Gallati said, “and that’s a tremendous responsibility and one that we don’t take lightly.”

Research is the main difference between trauma Levels 1 and 2. MUSC is a research hospital while Trident Medical is not. However, the trauma types that staff experience at both hospitals are relatively the same.

“With the exception of research, a Level 1 requirement, we provide the same trauma services as a level one,” said Rod Whiting, Trident Health’s vice president of public relations and communications.

Those traumas cover a wide range and are labeled a “trauma” based on each individual patient’s health.

And penetrating was the trauma type that nearly claimed the life of Cpl. Kimber Gist in February 2016. The Berkeley County Sheriff’s deputy was shot five times while responding to a suspicious-looking vehicle in a Food Lion parking lot in Goose Creek.

Gist was rushed to Trident Medical for treatment, and since that day has multiple times been featured as a guest of honor at hospital celebrations. She again commended trauma staff during Thursday’s ceremony.

“Trident played an essential part in saving my life and preparing me for my return to full duty,” Gist said.

Trident Medical is currently in the re-certification process for its trauma program—a requirement every three years.

“We’re beginning that work now to prepare our protocols and make sure everything’s up to date,” Dutton said.

Trident Medical’s trauma-designated team consists of five board-certified trauma surgeons, three mid-levels, 12 trauma nurses, three data analysts and two other staff members, Whiting said.

But it often takes many more medical hands than trauma staff alone to treat a trauma patient. In many cases, aid is required from respiratory, ICU, surgery, lab and imaging departments, among others.

“Trauma impacts not just the patient, not just the parts of our community, but almost every department within our hospital,” Gallati said. “It’s the whole hospital—2,000 employees strong.”

Dutton echoed Gallati’s thoughts.

“Trauma really is a team sport,” he said.

Trident Health also includes Summerville and Moncks Corner medical centers and Centre Pointe Emergency.

"A symbol of hope': Trident staff release butterflies signaling end of Trauma Month

Trident Healthcare employees and Gist (far right)

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