Trauma Survivors Network helps survivors adjust to life-changing injuries

“Settle down,” Scott Sandusky said out loud to himself when he felt the panic in his brain rise to a level that soon would cause him to pass out.

He had never liked the sight of blood, especially his own.

Alone in a rural area near Salisbury, pinned between his truck and a trailer loaded with roofing shingles, his first four tries at the 911 emergency line didn’t go through.

The construction company owner couldn’t feel his right leg. Twisted and lying on the ground, it wasn’t a part of him anymore.

He says he didn’t feel any pain; instead, he felt a sudden rush of sweat pour from his forehead and mix with his blood on the ground.

He worried that if he closed his eyes, it would be for good.

Sandusky’s construction accident two years ago took his leg, but it could have robbed him of his life as well, or at the very least changed it for the worst.

Instead of sinking into a permanent depression, however, the husband, father, gym owner and amputee made a triumphant recovery, and now is showing others how to survive, too – no matter what their personal obstacles.

Sandusky, 37, of China Grove, is among one of the first volunteers to take part locally in the Trauma Survivor Network, a national community created to help trauma survivors and their families find the resources they need to recover after a traumatic injury and readjust to a new life.

Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where Sandusky was treated for his injuries, joined the network in February 2013, becoming one of only three facilities in the state to offer the service.

University of North Carolina Health Care in Chapel Hill and Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem are also part of the network.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Sandusky. Since he joined the network, he has served as a mentor to 15 trauma survivors, from motorcycle accident patients to scheduled amputations from disease.

“I tell them, ‘I know where you are. You’re scared to death,’ ” he said. “ ‘You don’t have a clue what you’re going to do for income. It’s OK to feel that way. Look at me. Here I am.’ ”

After a while, he said, he can watch them relax, take a breath and begin to settle down.

Surgeons can repair patients physically, but survivors often need help from someone who’s been there to push through the maze of emotions during recovery.

Before joining the TSN, local patients had few opportunities to meet with peers who already have traveled the road to recovery.

“One of the greatest obstacles of the patient was unmet psychosocial needs,” said Dr. Michael J. Bosse, director of the Division of Orthopaedic Trauma at Carolinas HealthCare System.

This year, the medical center’s 16 TSN volunteers have made 238 visits to trauma survivors.

TSN’s support groups for patients and their families and friends have added more members.

As he did on the day of his accident, Sandusky said, if new trauma survivors can take time to examine their situation without panic, they can begin to come to terms with their injuries and move on to fulfilling but altered lives.

“That’s all right. That’s where I am. It’s expected,” Sandusky recalled telling himself at roadblocks during his yearlong recovery. “But I’m not staying here.”