Taken from: 2010 VCU Medical Center | Trauma Center Annual Report
Tyler Hancock lay comatose at VCU Medical Center when the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed up to support him. The 60-year-old deserved their attention; he risked life and limb to save his daughter’s dog from oncoming traffic and wound up fighting for another life: his own.
On a balmy July night in 2007 the night before his 30th wedding anniversary Tyler sat parked outside an ice cream store near his home in Midlothian, Va., with Jager, his daughter’s 3-year-old boxer, in the passenger seat. Laura, his daughter, left Jager to Tyler’s care while she worked in South Carolina for the summer, and the dog became his constant companion, particularly fond of drives in Tyler’s vintage British sports cars. That night, when Jager suddenly jumped out of the open-air car and bounded into the road, Tyler dashed after her. Though he tried to flag down oncoming vehicles on the four-lane highway, a car struck Tyler head-on, shattering his body as it sent him flying 100 feet from the site of impact. Jager, unscathed, disappeared into the night.
MedFlight flew Tyler to VCU Medical Center, where he arrived in dire condition: traumatic brain injury, legs broken in 13 places, left arm and multiple ribs fractured, lungs collapsed, scapula broken, and head-to-toe lacerations.
“Whenever someone is hit by a car, usually the human loses,” said Ajai K. Malhotra, M.D., vice chair of VCU’s Department of Trauma, Critical Care and Emergency Surgery and Tyler’s attending physician. “At age 60, with so many fractures, I gave him a 7S percent chance of survival. It sounds like a lot, but in the trauma world, mortality has gone down so low that when we say 2S percent mortality, that’s a very, very injured patient.”
Meanwhile, Tyler’s wife, Brenda, got into her car to look for her husband, alarmed that he and Jager hadn’t returned from their quick ice cream run. Drawn in by police cars’ flashing lights, she arrived at the accident scene, and police escorted her to the medical center.
“I knew Tyler was in trouble because three chaplains met me at the door” to the hospital, remembered Brenda, a middle school teacher.
As doctors made every effort to stabilize Tyler in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit, they painted a realistic, but bleak, portrait for Brenda and Laura, who returned from South Carolina to be by her parents’ sides.
“They tried to be honest and upfront but yet very sensitive,” Brenda said. “I always felt like each of them felt our pain because of the compassionate look in their eyes.”
After several days, Tyler’s condition improved enough for orthopedic surgeons to focus on fixing his broken limbs. Tyler visited the operating room four times, undergoing 12 procedures. Though Brenda had been warned that her husband might lose the lower part of his legs, surgeons, led by Mark C. Willis Jr., M.D., VCU’s director of orthopedic trauma, managed to save them.
Tyler left the ICU after 10 days and the hospital after another week, transferring to a local rehabilitation facility to begin the long journey toward healing. Nearly four years later, Tyler walks without a cane, exercises regularly and spends days tinkering with his three beloved vintage cars in his garage shop. He also works full time as the owner of two Richmond insurance agencies.
“I tell people all the time, the good news is I’m up,” said Tyler, who lost all memory of the month preceding and following the accident. “I’m just glad to be here.”
Brenda echoed Tyler’s gratitude, thankful her husband returned home to her after suffering such extreme trauma. “He had so many life-threatening injuries and everyone of them needed a specialist,” Brenda said. “All the doctors and nurses worked round the clock and never once gave up on him. We get back to our day-to-day life, but just about every day, I think back. Because ofVCu, my daughter still has a father and I still have a husband and life is very sweet.”
As for Jager, local news outlets covered the accident and the dog’s disappearance, sending many community members into the night on a quest to find her. Construction workers finally recovered her, frightened, but unharmed, from a nearby construction site the morning after the accident. The family reunited with Jager soon afterward, and Tyler’s daughter gratefully gave her father the dog upon his return home from rehab.
“She is his shop foreman,” Brenda said. “She is just a total companion. Everything we do, we include Jager. We’re very lucky that she didn’t get hit that night. We know how lucky we are to have her and Tyler.”