Turning trauma into hope

May 21, 2019
A crowd of onlookers, survivors and surgeons listens as Charlie Hanna speaks about his experience with trauma and how it shaped his life.
A crowd of onlookers, survivors and surgeons listens as Charlie Hanna speaks about his experience with trauma and how it shaped his life during MUSC's annual Trauma Survivors Day. Photos by Sarah Pack.

The thing Charlie Hanna remembers most is the quiet right before it happened. 

It was a Monday morning, long before the sun had come up, and it was cold. Februarys in the Upstate of South Carolina were usually cold, he thought, but not like this. He had just dropped off the kids at daycare when he crossed a bridge – the same one he had driven over not 15 minutes before – and that’s when he hit the ice. 

Instinct told him to take both feet off the pedals, but the tension of the situation caused him to torque the steering wheel to the left. The ice ignored his input, friction a mere memory now. The truck glided silently for what felt like seconds to Hanna. He was nearly all the way across the bridge when the slick patch ended – the wheels pointed almost sideways now – and the tires gripped hard.

A passing motorist would later tell Hanna he saw his truck barrel roll at least five times before finally coming to rest on its side. Hanna came to seconds – or was it minutes – later. Hard to be sure with all the smoke in the cab, the passenger window pointing toward the now-cobalt blue sky, his brain scrambled and confused. 

“I thought the truck was on fire,” he recalls, the powder from his airbag swirling inside the vehicle, mimicking smoke. “Adrenaline just took over, and I remember climbing out the window and running as hard as I could.”

Eyewitnesses said he made it about 300 yards before collapsing. In minutes, EMTs were on the scene and rushed Hanna to a local ER. Somehow, he had avoided major injury, and all his scans were normal. He was lucky, the doctors said.

Charlie Hanna stands at a podium and speaks to a gathered crowd for MUSC's Trauma Survivors Day. 
Charlie Hanna, who was involved in a life-changing car accident in 2012, speaks to the gathered crowd during MUSC's annual Trauma Survivors Day.

Last week, Hanna shared his story with a large group gathered along the Charleston Medical District Greenway as a part of MUSC’s Trauma Survivors Day. 

“As awful as that experience was… If that was my only brush with trauma, I probably wouldn’t have dwelled on it too much,” Hanna said of his 2012 car wreck. But then a colleague and longtime friend had a similar experience affect his family. 

On October 27 of 2017, while stargazing on a clear moonlit night, Tia and Nathan Fry were run over by a truck illegally on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. In the aftermath, Tia had several broken ribs and a ruptured spleen; Nathan suffered multiple bone fractures as well as a brain injury. They were rushed to MUSC – the state’s first and Lowcountry’s only Level I trauma center – where Tia was released four days later. It would take Nathan months of care and rehab before he would be back on his feet. 

“When I came to visit Nathan at MUSC and saw how all this had not only affected him but his entire family, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something,’” Hanna said.

He got in touch with MUSC, and thanks to a generous financial donation, together they created the Trauma Survivors Patient Fund.

Bruce Crookes, M.D., chief of the Division of General Surgery at MUSC, emceed the yearly event, which featured inspirational talks by Hanna as well as Rob Arrington, husband of trauma survivor Katie Arrington. Hundreds of people – including almost the entire trauma surgery team at MUSC– flocked to the community event, which also offered booths manned by survivor groups, educational materials, food trucks and live music.. 

May is National Trauma Awareness Month, and the purpose of Trauma Survivors Day, and the newly created fund, is to draw inspiration from and provide support to survivors and their caregivers, encouraging recovery from injury. MUSC is a member of the Trauma Survivors Network, a program of the American Trauma Society, which assists individuals and families recovering from trauma.

“It takes a lot of strength to face the worst day of your life all over again,” MUSC trauma surgeon Heather Evans, M.D., said of the survivors who came to the event, willing to share their stories. 

“I can’t even imagine. They are very brave. Not only are they an inspiration to others going through the same thing but to us as surgeons, too. We see them in the ER and do our best to put them back together, but to get to see their smiling faces on the other side, it is just good for the soul.”

Trauma Survivors Patient Fund

The newly created Trauma Survivors Patient Fund at MUSC serves to draw inspiration from, and provide support to, survivors and their caregivers, opening the road to their recovery from injury.