Forty-six-year-old Robert Waite has lived and worked on a farm for nearly 30 years in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He and his family know no other lifestyle than the hard work and dedication of running their farm, caring for its crops and raising its animals. But on what was a typical Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2012, the unexpected happened; Robert’s entire lifestyle was thrown into doubt when he was attacked by a 1,500-pound bull on his family’s property.
Despite multiple attempts to escape, Robert was left in the pen with catastrophic injuries to his chest. He was found by his wife and another farm worker and flown to Geisinger Medical Center via LifeFlight®. Robert was suffering from a condition known as bilateral flail chest – when multiple ribs fracture in multiple locations, leaving a freestanding portion of the ribs that moves inversely with the rest of the ribs during breathing.
“Robert came to the hospital facing significant amount of time on a ventilator because his chest
had caved in; his chest wall literally went back and hit his spine,” says Michael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, chairman, department of orthopaedic surgery at Geisinger Health System.“This level
of injury had the potential of being a lifetime problem in terms of Robert’s ability to take deep breaths.”
Dr. Suk believed Robert was a prime candidate for a new procedure known as rib fixation, which involves fixing the ribs back together using plates and screws. Robert was the first patient at Geisinger Medical Center to undergo this new procedure.
“The procedure allowed us to get Robert off the ventilator quicker and to prevent any deformity from occurring when the bones healed,” says Dr. Suk.
“Typically patients experience considerable pain with broken ribs because the broken bone ends rub against each other with every breath taken. This procedure resolves that complaint.”
Robert was removed from the ventilator shortly after the procedure. Within four months, Robert was already back to running his farm equipment, milking his cows and lifting up to 80 pounds.
“I couldn’t ask for a better doctor, I don’t believe,” says Robert. “Dr. Suk really seemed to care, he found a procedure that really worked and got me my life back. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.”
As for the bull, “well I guess you could say he won the battle…but I won the war. The tenderloin sits in my freezer, and I might just share it with Dr. Suk at my one year follow up!”