Healthy You - Every Day

Arc of Healing is Bending Toward Monroe Welder

Thomas Ruck is determined to fully recover from crash that almost claimed his life

A perfect storm of bad circumstances found Thomas Ruck last Nov. 30 late at night on a Monroe County highway.

His Honda Civic was speeding. He had alcohol in his system. And when he went off Route 209 in Polk Township in the West End of the county, he hit a utility pole, splitting his car in half. The crash brought down live wires, initially preventing emergency medical personnel from reaching him.

Ruck, 31, of Effort, and the father of one, was on death’s door when he reached Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg by MedEvac helicopter, says Joseph Stirparo, MD, trauma surgeon at LVH–Muhlenberg.

Numerous serious injuries

In and out of surgery for injuries that included a lacerated kidney, broken ribs, a compound fracture of his femur (the body’s largest, longest and strongest bone) and pelvic injuries, he was hospitalized for 70 days. Nineteen of those days were in the intensive care unit (ICU), and for 13 of those days he was breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.

Did You Know?

It can take three months or more for a broken femur to heal.

Ruck’s caregivers say he was intent on getting better and getting home from the moment he awoke in the ICU. “He was locked in on his goal,” says Dr. Stirparo of Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence. “We were all inspired by his determination.”

A self-employed welder, Ruck is eager to get back to work. Now, though, he measures progress in small steps. He says he had damage to his lower spine, which means he can’t yet  fully move his left leg. His right leg and pelvis were repaired using a rod, plate and screws.

“I’m working full blast on rebuilding my muscles and getting back to normal. I’m very much motivated to get back to where I was.” – Thomas Ruck

Positive outlook

“I’d love nothing more than to be back at work,” Ruck says. “Right now, I can barely get in and out of my truck.” Welding is physically demanding work and Ruck’s road back will be long. “I have no doubt in my mind I’ll fully recover,” he says. “I’m working full blast on rebuilding my muscles and getting back to normal. I’m very much motivated to get back to where I was.”

Ruck says his support system of family and friends has been a real blessing. “My mom and dad were at the hospital every day. My friends came and visited regularly,” he says. “You have to surround yourself with the right people, the people who make a difference. I can call on any of them whenever I need to, and they will be there.”

Caregivers at LVH–Muhlenberg were great, Ruck says. “Dr. Stirparo and Dr. [Kathryn] Wheel were fantastic. They explained everything to me and answered all my questions,” he says. Ruck says he remembers small acts of caring, such as someone giving him a shave. Another nurse regularly updated her charts in Ruck’s room so he could talk with someone if he chose.

Ready to succeed

Ruck says his accident and recovery brought more focus and appreciation for the little things he used to do without a thought, such as walking from one area to another, from one room to another. “That’s huge when you get into a position like I was in, using a walker or a wheelchair. It changes your whole perception on being able to work, to enjoy life.”

He’s thankful for the second chance he got through the efforts of countless people that November night, from first responders to nurses and surgeons. His aches and pains are reminders his journey ahead won’t be easy.

Ruck is confident he’ll get there. Like a welder joining steel, he’s ready to build a new life.

Trauma Care

You can expect high-level trauma care at Lehigh Valley Health Network's accredited trauma centers located in eastern Pennsylvania.

Explore More Articles