Independence Day is the worst of times and the best of times for Hyatt Kirwin. She was injured in a horrific Fourth of July boating accident in 2014. Unaware that she was climbing back aboard, the driver engaged the propeller, leaving Hyatt with five lacerations between her knee and ankle and her shin bone exposed. Unconscious, she was rushed to MUSC and awakened to find out that her tibia (the large bone of the shin) was shattered. She feared she would lose her leg. She was also afraid the disability would prevent her from starting her first job as a teacher.
Dr. Langdon Hartsock, a nationally renowned trauma surgeon, calmed Kirwin and assured her that she would get the best care. And even though the injury was severe, she would not lose her leg. He performed a complex surgery that day and an external fixator -- a device providing rigid immobilization with a rod on the outside of the leg – was put in. After surgery, Hyatt went home on crutches.
The Musculoskeletal Institute at MUSC Health uses an interdisciplinary approach to patient care. When Hyatt returned to MUSC in September, she had a skin graft performed by plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Ulm. Hyatt would return to MUSC again in October to have a titanium rod inserted from her knee to her ankle. After follow-up visits during the next year, Dr. Hartsock said she was healing well and could start putting weight on it. Kirwin was diligent with her physical therapy and on July 4, 2015 – her one-year anniversary of the accident – she took her first steps.
“Dr. Hartsock told me how it was, but in a way I could follow, and it never scared me. I knew after talking to him that I would be okay, and what I would have to do to walk again,” says Kirwin. “Every time someone would ask me or my parents who my surgeon was, we said Dr. Hartsock, and they replied ‘Oh you are in the best hands.’”
In June, 2016, two years after the accident, Kirwin returned to MUSC and got the rod and screws out.
Dr. Hartsock says of the surgery, “She had multiple surgeries. Obviously, the first one was the most dramatic, in which we decided that we could save her leg. Fortunately, the propeller had not damaged any critical nerves or arteries. She was very lucky!”
Her surgery was done in stages. The first called for surgically cleaning her multiple wounds and applying the external fixation. She then had a muscle flap and skin graft to close the wounds. Once the doctor was sure there was no infection, Kirwin had a plate and bone graft to get the bone to heal. More than a year later, the plate came out.
“She has been remarkably patient. It was a process for her and her family. They had to deal with the shock and, of course, the terrible pain and multiple surgeries. I don't think anything she and her family had previously experienced could have prepared them for what happened”, says Dr. Hartsock. “She was fortunate in that she did not have any complications or setbacks.”
Dr. Ulm adds, “Hyatt remained extremely brave and positive throughout her difficult recovery. Although she suffered a devastating injury, her bravery and her family’s support led to a remarkable recovery.”
“Dr. Hartsock made me feel comfortable. We trusted him. I loved everyone at MUSC. Dr. Ulm and Physician Assistant Stacey Rothwell were amazing, as was all of the staff. In January of 2016, I was able to get back to teaching,” Kirwin says. “The school had held my position. I am now back to enjoying tennis and also walking my dog. Believe it or not, I have gotten back out on the water!”