Healthy You - Every Day

Terrible Crash Can’t Crush Nursing Dream

Monroe woman on track to work at LVH–Muhlenberg, where her life was saved

It was the middle of the night and Kim Camacho and her mother were headed home to Monroe County after helping to chaperone Liberty High School’s senior prom last May.

Her mom, Aida Rivera, an assistant principal at the Bethlehem school, was at the wheel when they pulled out from the high school after bidding goodbye to the last remaining chaperones still gathered there. Camacho, then 23, was in the front passenger seat of her mom’s Kia Sportage sport utility vehicle.

About 40 minutes later, they passed a Dairy Queen® on Route 209 near Marshalls Creek. Camacho had been sleeping, but heard her mom say how good it would be to have a Blizzard® ice cream treat from the restaurant. Camacho fell back to sleep.

Her next memory was nothing short of a nightmare. Their car had crossed into the oncoming lane and collided with a box truck.

Did you know?

There are approximately 6 million deaths per year globally from trauma, which is more than all the contagious diseases added together including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and COVID-19. In addition, 40 million people are permanently injured each year. - Source: National Library of Medicine

“I remember waking up. My mom was unconscious. I remember seeing the driver of the truck. He was sprawled over his steering wheel,” Camacho recalls. Unable to find her cellphone, she used her Apple Watch to call 911. She told the dispatcher she had been in an accident but didn’t know where she was.

“It was terrible,” Camacho says. “I remember them pulling me out of the car. I was aware I was hurt, but I didn’t realize how serious it was. I don’t remember being in pain.”

Lifesaving care

Camacho was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono where she was stabilized, then airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg. Her list of injuries read like an anatomy textbook: spinal fracture, lacerated spleen and kidney, rib fractures, pancreas and bowel injuries, toe fractures and a collapsed lung.

No one knows why their car crossed over and hit the truck, Camacho says. Neither Camacho nor her mom remembered what happened just before the crash.

Camacho was wearing her seat belt, something LVH–Muhlenberg trauma surgeon Joseph Stirparo, MD, says was a lifesaver. “Kim would not have made it to the hospital had she not been wearing her seat belt,” Dr. Stirparo says.

Camacho entered the hospital May 21 and wasn’t discharged until July 5. She lost her spleen and had part of her intestine removed. She had a stent in her pancreas. She had a chest tube to help drain the fluid that kept accumulating in her body. While in the intensive care unit, she was intubated for a time to help her breathe and required a feeding tube. She had several operations.

Through it all, she said, she had the support of family, friends and her fiancé, who were with her nearly all the time.

At one point while in intensive care, Camacho says, she had a dream. Someone was telling her it was time to go to her funeral, that everyone was waiting to see her.

“I remember dreaming that I couldn’t get out of my chair,” she says. “Somebody had to be watching over us. It was a blessing we survived.”

Bonding with trauma caregivers

“The entire trauma team was just amazing,” Camacho says. As a nursing student at Penn State Altoona, she was familiar with medical care. She already had a degree in exercise science from another college and had worked in home health care and in two hospitals in the Wilkes-Barre region.

Camacho says she especially bonded with Dr. Stirparo and his wife, Katy Wheel, MD, also an LVH–Muhlenberg trauma surgeon. “They listened to me and were invested in me as a person and a patient,” Camacho says, adding Dr. Stirparo made sure she was out of the hospital in time to get back to nursing school last fall.

“Throughout her hospitalization, our team felt as though they were part of her family,” Dr. Stirparo says. “Our mission is ‘One team. One patient. One life saved.’ We are always trying to be part of that familial ecosystem as the healing takes place.”

Dr. Stirparo says a team approach to patient care is a cornerstone of the trauma program and played a key role in Camacho’s lifesaving treatment.

“Kim was determined from day one to return to nursing school. We were able to make that happen,” Dr. Stirparo says. “I spent a lot of time telling her how valuable it would be for her to be an ICU nurse where she would be able to share her experience and help similar patients.”

Future filled with promise

Camacho is on track to graduate in December from Penn State Altoona with her bachelor’s degree in nursing. This summer, she’ll intern at – you guessed it – LVH–Muhlenberg. “My nurses in the intensive care unit were phenomenal. I wonder who they will partner me with,” she says. And when she graduates, she’ll be working in the same ICU where she was a patient.

“We’re so proud Kim wants to return to us and work in the ICU,” Dr. Stirparo says. “She’s a fighter and that spirit will serve her well.”

Camacho says her gift for caring for others has roots in her childhood. She recalls helping to care for her grandmother’s sister who had developmental and mobility problems. In high school, Camacho volunteered to work with students with disabilities. She loved anatomy in high school and says being a nurse allows her to both apply science and help people.

In addition to being a full-time student, Camacho works per diem at a step-down unit for stroke and seizure patients at a medical facility in the Altoona area. Though she’s had a lot of experience in health care settings, her recovery from traumatic injuries takes her empathy for her patients to another level.

When they complain about their chest tube, or need something that might seem minor, she knows their struggle. She’s walked in their shoes.

“I believed I was going to be a good nurse without knowing I’d go through this,” she says. “I’m excited for the future.”


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