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"This is why we do what we do"

10/26/2017

Robert Mahoney, 81, doesn’t remember a thing about October 17, 2016. Chief of Trauma Horacio Hojman, MD, remembers everything.

“Mr. Mahoney came to us in severe respiratory distress and had to be intubated immediately,” said Dr. Hojman. “He had a pelvic fracture that was bleeding, five broken ribs with multiple fractures and a detached retina in his right eye. We all thought he was going to die.”

That day, Mahoney was planning to take the commuter rail home from South Station when he fell on the tracks. It was a five foot drop and he landed directly on the rail. Two Amtrak workers pulled him out and he was rushed to Tufts Medical Center. His prognosis was dire. 

The will to live

“His case was complicated by all of his pre-existing medical issues before the fall,” said Dr. Hojman. “Mr. Mahoney has coronary artery disease, heart failure, COPD, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and he is legally blind. His injuries indicated it was unlikely he would live to be discharged from the hospital – and that was before taking into account any of his other medical problems.”

But Mahoney’s family was convinced that his feisty nature and strong resolve would help him defy the odds and pull through. He was sedated and connected to a ventilator, yet the family told Dr. Hojman, “Just wait, he will wake up and yell at you!”

“I would be very happy if he ever yells at me,” Dr. Hojman replied.

More than just luck

But the family’s faith was rewarded. Mahoney underwent two surgeries and spent 23 days in the Tufts MC Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) – a unit that has been internationally recognized for having one of the lowest mortality rates, adjusted for severity of illness, in the country and a care team well known for an exceptional and personal approach to bedside care. After Mahoney’s condition had sufficiently improved, he was transferred to a step down hospital for 40 days before heading to a rehab facility, where he spent six full months recovering. 

Shortly after discharge from rehab, Mahoney and his daughter, Donna Mahoney, returned to Tufts MC to visit the trauma and SICU care teams that helped save his life. But Mahoney did not yell at Dr. Hojman; instead he thanked him and gave him an Irish chain for good luck.

“I couldn’t believe he was doing so well,” said Dr. Hojman. “I hadn’t seen him since he left the SICU and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he had recovered. Most people with his acute injuries and pre-existing medical problems would have died; his chances of long term survival were less than 15 percent.”

“It was a very difficult, emotional time for our family. But we knew dad was in excellent hands with both the trauma and SICU teams,” said Donna. “The expertise, compassion, dedication and genuine sincerity of the doctors, nurses and staff really made all the difference. Everyone went above and beyond to make us all feel comfortable. We have been to other hospitals and the experience wasn’t at all like this. It was night and day.”

Tears of joy

Mahoney had an additional theory for how he managed to recover.

“I don’t think God wants me,” he said, with a smile. 

“The last time we saw Dr. Hojman, we were shedding tears of sadness,” said Donna. “This time, we were crying tears of joy.”

“We live for this. This is why we do what we do,” said Dr. Hojman. “When a patient gets better against all hope, it makes all our work worth it.”