If you’ve walked the halls of the Trauma Center at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in the last few months, there’s a chance you’ve come across Alisha Sawant. She’s the positively beaming volunteer with a permanent smile who often greets friends and family of patients, and generally helps out on the floor.
Just a few years ago, however, Alisha was a patient herself at Penn’s Trauma Center, and while she may be back on the unit, today it’s in a very different capacity – and the journey to get her there took years of hard work and care.
Alisha’s life changed on June 2, 2013. She was 25 years old; a Drexel University graduate who had started her career with a leading cosmetics company. Then, one night while she was riding as a passenger on a motorcycle being driven by a co-worker, she was involved in a catastrophic accident between the motorcycle and a car. From the scene of the wreck, Alisha and the co-worker were quickly taken to the nearest community trauma hospital. But, when the staff saw the extent and severity of their injuries, both were transported to the trauma center at Penn - then located at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania - where doctors could provide the advanced care they needed.
Simply surviving the wreck was the first sign that Alisha would be one to buck the odds.
“I wasn’t here the night Alisha came in, but the kind of injuries she had, you don’t see a lot of survivors,” said Samir Mehta, MD, chief of Orthopaedic Trauma and one of Alisha’s surgeons.
Alisha arrived at Penn with devastating injuries to her head, brain and pelvis. The trauma team went to work, evaluating and treating her injuries, even removing the left side of her skull to address trauma to her brain. Her injuries would leave her in a coma for a long period, leaving her friends and family with nothing to do but wait.
Alisha Sawant's mother holding her hand while Alisha was in the Intensive Care Unit.
“Alisha is lucky that the staff at the first trauma center quickly recognized that she would need intensive and advanced care, and sent her to us right away,” said Jim Schuster, MD, PhD, director of Neurotrauma, and the neurosurgery attending on service that night.
Dr. Schuster was among the first to assess, evaluate, and treat Alisha. “Her injuries were very serious, but fortunately, our team was able to work quickly and stabilize her. But we knew it was going to be a long a difficult road, and in the beginning, there was really no telling how extensive or permanent some of the damage might be. We didn’t know if she’d walk again, or talk again. We didn’t know if she’d remember things. To see her back on the unit again, having recovered as beautifully as she did is a testament to not only the care she received at both facilities, but also the incredible amount of hard work she’s put in to get herself here.”
Alisha spent months in Penn's care, during which time her friends and family came to know the halls like the backs of their hands, and the staff and volunteers like they were old friends. When a loved one’s life is in danger, when you can’t do anything except sit, watch, and wait, a helping hand to point you to the cafeteria, or explain what services the gift shop can offer, can make a world of difference.
After months of care at Penn and Good Shepherd, Alisha was discharged on August 21, but continued to receive care at home. It was months after the grisly wreck before Alisha would begin to walk on her own, one step at a time. But still, there were other residual effects, including memory. She underwent a great deal of physical therapy, cognitive therapy and speech therapy.
Earlier this year, Alisha became a PPMC volunteer and she chose to join the team in the Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit. Alisha wanted to be involved and give back to the institution that had given her so much.
“I know what I went through and what my parents, sister and friends went through and I want to use my unfortunate experience to give back,” Alisha said.
Alisha assists patients and their families with finding their way around the hospital and unit, she offers help as she can with guest and family relations and services, and generally offers support however able. She said her parents were deeply grateful for the support of everyone at PPMC when she was going through her ordeal.
“I’ve been given a second chance and I just knew I had to use it to give back to the people who saved my life,” she said. “I want to support the patients who are going through what I went through and their family and friends who are in my parents’ shoes.”