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Trauma Survivors Network -- Corey Mohnike and Dr. Reginald Burton

Corey Mohnike (left), a respiratory therapist at Bryan Medical Center West, credits Bryan Trauma Center Medical Director Dr. Reginald Burton for saving his life following a 2004 car crash. Mohnike, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, now volunteers his time and his story to help other trauma patients and their families as they embark on the long road to recovery.

Just as Corey Mohnike embarked on a new career and life, he nearly died.

Newly graduated from respiratory therapy school and working at Lincoln’s Bryan Medical Center, Mohnike was on a solid trajectory.

Then on April 9, 2004, it came to a crashing halt. Mohnike was a passenger in a car that veered out of control and slammed into a tree. Not wearing a seatbelt, Mohnike was thrown through the vehicle’s T-top as it flipped. He landed in the yard of a Bryan co-worker.

The driver escaped serious injury. But Mohnike was in bad shape -- ribs on both sides of his body broken, his lungs collapsed and his brain hammered when the bony plate at the base of his skull fractured from ear to ear. His left ear was nearly torn off.

Mohnike was raced to Bryan’s Trauma Center where Dr. Reginald Burton was told the patient “was one of ours.”

Burton didn’t recognize the 26-year-old on the gurney before him. But he did recognize the signs of a body near death.

Mohnike’s brain needed oxygen that his lungs couldn’t deliver. Blood leaked to places it shouldn’t be. Body enzymes went into panic mode -- putting Mohnike at risk of seizure and brain damage.

“He was very smooshed,” recalled Burton, medical director of the trauma center. “He had a bad head, bad lungs -- together it was really really bad.

“It was nip and tuck for awhile.”

Today, Mohnike, now 40, is near fully recovered. Still a respiratory therapist at Bryan Medical Center, Mohnike takes a keen interest in trauma patients -- particularly those facing a long road to recovery.

He was once one of them.

Now, he’s a trauma survivor.

A title he wears proudly.

Bryan Trauma Center opened in 1984, making it the state’s first verified trauma center. With an average of 1,800 trauma patients a year, the Level II Trauma Center is the busiest in Nebraska.

“We’re great at saving people,” Burton said. “Our mortality rate is extremely low.”

More than 97 percent of patients arriving with any sign of life survive. The rate jumps to 99 percent for pediatric trauma patients, Burton said.

Survival is the goal.

But as many trauma patients and their families will attest, life rarely -- if ever -- goes completely back to the way it was before the crash.

Trauma survivors need to connect and rebuild, said Heather Talbott, Bryan trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator.

“We do a great job of saving them while they are here, but what happens after?” Talbott asked.

A study by the American Trauma Society finds than only half of trauma survivors return to work one year after their injury.

“The physical injury was not always the reason for poor outcome,” according to ATS. “Anxiety, depression and lack of self confidence and good social support often got in the way of a good recovery.”

Which is why the Bryan Trauma Center joined the Trauma Survivors Network about 18 months ago.

TSN helps patients and their families connect with the available services as well as others weathering similar storms. It empowers and embraces people, pairing trauma patients and their families with peers, and helping them discover that life after trauma, while different, can still be pretty darn good.

Mohnike is living proof.

Trauma is so different from any other event that lands people in a hospital, Mohnike said.

It’s completely unexpected. It’s usually life-threatening. No one arrives prepared.

“Family and friends don’t know what to do except say ‘it will be OK,’ which is not true," Burton said. "The majority will not be OK."

Trauma, even when it isn’t life-ending, is still life-altering.

Mohnike was lucky. When he regained consciousness nearly two weeks after the crash, “we knew he was in there … and rehab-able,” Burton said referring to Mohnike’s cognitive function.

But Mohnike had a long road to recovery.

He didn't return to work until months after the accident. For his own peace of mind, he retested in all the competencies required respiratory therapists.

“I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing,” Mohnike said. “Everything was fine.”

Nine years after the accident, Mohnike said he still sometimes struggles to find the right words, and his short term memory is not always reliable, so he keeps lists posted throughout his house.

“And I have this ringing in my ears whenever the weather changes,” Mohnike said.

Minuscule problems, he said. It could have been far worse.

Today, he’s a different man than the one who climbed in that car on that Good Friday in 2004.

“He came back with a new fire and vim for trauma care,” Burton said. “He has been on the other side.”

So when he hears of a trauma victim -- especially one with a traumatic brain injury -- Mohnike makes a point of stopping by the ICU to talk to the family. He tells them, he is a survivor. And there is life after trauma.

“I feel very sympathetic," said Mohnike, who is also a clinical educator for respiratory therapists. "I am more observant of the whole picture of things.” 

Said Burton, “He’s quite a resource for the trauma surgeon. He helps the next guy up.”

And he helps the patient's families simply by knowing what they are going through and will go through.

To continue that support after leaving the hospital is critical to trauma survivors and patients.

“The connections are lifelong,” Mohnike said.

Trauma Survivors Network keeps them strong.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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