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Monroe County Woman Recovering From Severe Injuries in Hiking Accident

Trauma survivor, 68, looks forward to thanking her care team, and to her next hike

One moment, Karen Benjamin and her husband were taking a Labor Day hike near a majestic waterfall, and the next minute she was lying seriously injured at the bottom of a 30-foot embankment.

Karen had severe facial trauma, a head injury, broken ribs and a compound fracture of the leg. She was losing blood, and also was losing consciousness.

There was no cell service in that remote area of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pike County. Fortunately, another hiker came along, walked a mile until her phone would work and called for help.

“It takes a village to care for a critically ill trauma patient.” - Joseph Stirparo, MD

Today, Karen is mostly recovered, thanks to the trauma team at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg. The 68-year-old is looking forward to heading back into the woods.

Severe injuries, a harrowing rescue

Karen doesn’t remember much about the day she was injured. “I don’t even remember saying ouch,” she says. But she has been able to piece together what happened from her husband, park rangers and some of the 30 rescuers from the Bushkill Volunteer Fire Co. who reached the couple using ropes. They then hauled out the Benjamins atop all-terrain vehicles before loading her into the LVHN–MedEvac helicopter for her trip to the hospital.

Her injuries were life-threatening. “I had a fractured skull. They had to put mesh behind my eyes so my face wouldn’t cave in,” she says. “I lost four teeth. My jaw was broken and had to be wired shut. My husband told me I had a bone sticking out of my lower leg. I had a cracked sternum and broken ribs.”

Karen spent six weeks in the hospital, followed by months of therapy and follow-up visits. “Someone,” she says, “did a great job of putting me back together.”

‘It takes a village’

Actually, it was an entire team of people who put her back together.

“It takes a village to care for a critically ill trauma patient,” says trauma surgeon Joseph Stirparo, MD, associate chief, Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, LVH–Muhlenberg.

“The team caring for Ms. Benjamin would best be described as the entirety of the LVH–Muhlenberg campus – from the emergency department, operating room, intensive care unit, general medical floor, trauma team, surgical and medical specialists to trauma rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy, food services, janitorial staff, security and others,” Dr. Stirparo says. 

Karen’s overall physical fitness was a key part of her positive outcome, Dr. Stirparo says, but recovery from severe trauma can be daunting. “It can take years for a trauma patient to regain full function after such significant injuries,” he says.

As part of her recovery, Karen needed several other surgeries including oral surgery, plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery. She still is in physical therapy.

Despite all that, she looks back on her hospital experience as a good one. “Everyone was so good to me there – the doctors, the nurses, the therapists and the staff. I could cry. They took such good care of me,” she says.

Karen worked as a legal secretary before her accident. She is not yet back to work. The Henryville, Monroe County, woman says that despite her ordeal, she feels well.

“I still have a limp, and my leg is so full of metal that I ding at the airport,” she says, but she is able to drive and is strong enough to help her daughter care for her 4-year-old grandson.

A story that ends well

“For a while there, with both of us in the creek at the bottom of that hill, my husband thought he had lost me,” Karen says.

“But the end of the story is a good one,” she says. “I’m alive, and I am so excited to go back to the hospital and say thank you to everyone who cared for me.”

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