I beat the odds. I’m here for a reason.

Rachel Olsen, Patient

On December 7th, 1985, I excitedly loaded into a Ford Bronco with my best friend to set out for a sledding party at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. We never made it to the party. We hit a patch of black ice and swerved into the other lane. Just at that moment, another car hit the ice and broadsided us. My friend and I were ejected through the side of the Bronco.

The paramedics, Guss and Paul, were dispatched to an accident with three adults and a child. They arrived and immediately started treating the injuries, stabilizing the four patients for their ride to the emergency room.

Typically, on the scene of an accident, Guss and Paul were no-nonsense: treat, load, and go. But something made Guss stop. He noticed a small boot in the middle of the road and had a gut feeling they were missing something. He looked at Paul, pointed to the boot, and Paul said, “GO.” Guss raced down the icy road and found me, face down in a culvert. After being thrown from the car, my body slid on the ice for close to an eighth of a mile. Guss immediately knew that I was severely injured. Without many words, Guss and Paul got to work. Once I was loaded in the ambulance, they called ahead to Bronson Hospital to tell them they were on the way with a mortally injured nine-year-old.

Less than one percent of people in my condition make it to the hospital, but with Guss and Paul’s excellent care, I did. I was met at the door by the trauma team and immediately rushed into surgery. The surgeons quickly discovered that I had several large lacerations in my liver, spleen, and gallbladder, a tear in my vena cava, and a blood clot in my brain. The bleeding was so intense that when they tried to repair the damage to my organs, my blood pressure would drop, and I would go into shock. The surgeons spent over six hours working on my small body, giving me over 25 units of blood, 20 units of platelets, and 10 units of plasma. In addition, they recycled 17 units of my blood through a machine called the hemo cell saver, which was used for the very first time that day. In order to repair my organs, the surgical team had to clamp off my aorta, effectively shutting off the blood supply below my chest. There was a risk in this, in that it could paralyze me if the blood were clamped off for one second too long, yet it was the only way to clear the field for surgery.

After they mended the dissected veins and lacerations and removed the organs that were too damaged to be saved, I was still bleeding. Blood was oozing from the surface of my organs due to abrasion, without a way to stop it. The bleeding was minimized as best as possible, a clotting factor was given, and Dr. Clift said, “we have done all that we can. We need to close her and hope that the bleeding stops.” I left the operating room in critical condition and was taken to the Pediatric ICU.

I had survived the surgery, but as Dr. Clift said, “the ICU care was every bit as difficult as the surgery.” He credits the ICU staff for doing an incredible job containing the blood loss and keeping everything just perfect so that I could survive without infection.

Over the next weeks, I got a little stronger every day, and it was the tremendous amount of love that I felt from near and far that carried me through. The love of my parents, brother, extended family, friends, surgeons, paramedics, and nursing staff was the key ingredient in my survival. The generosity of spirit, time, and talent was immeasurable. The tidal wave of love that I felt during my recovery is what I will remember for all of my days.

I beat the odds. I’m here for a reason. I survived so that I can give as much of the love that was given to me back to the world every day.

– Rachel Olsen, former pediatric trauma patient

In 2021, Rachel’s parents, Chris and Barbara Christoffersen, created an endowment through the Bronson Health Foundation to support trauma and emergency services at Bronson. To read about the generous gift and what the funds will be used for, click here.


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