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Long road to recovery

Sanford Health surgical team helps New York motorcyclist survive I-94 crash
Bill Rauschenberg  survives crash thanks to Sanford Health surgeons
After surviving a life-threatening motorcycle accident while riding through North Dakota in 2009, New Yorker Bill Rauschenberg has worked hard to regain his physical health. Last fall he was able to return to his job as an elementary school art teacher.
  Bill Rauschenberg’s cross-country trip got detoured when his mode of transportation switched from motorcycle to ambulance on Interstate 94 near Bismarck. In the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2009, Bismarck paramedics brought a severely injured, unresponsive Rauschenberg into Sanford Emergency & Trauma Center. The Rauschenbergs credit Bill’s recovery to the care he received in those critical first hours and days he spent at Sanford Health before being transferred to a hospital in Nyack, N.Y., where the Rauschenbergs live.

“I have often said that when Bill landed in Bismarck at Sanford Health he was in medical heaven,” said his wife, Diane. Bill, 62, remembers nothing about his accident or his Sanford Health stay. But he said he’s very grateful for the expertise of the many doctors and medical staff members who cared for him.

Bill’s coma scale was 6; anything below 8 is serious. He had major injuries, some that could have been life threatening. As Bill lay inert and hooked to a breathing machine in Sanford Health’s intensive care unit, Diane e-mailed family and friends, “Bill has so many lines and tubes coming out of him that I should worry, but the nurse has explained each one to me, and they each have a very specific function. His nurses and doctors could not be better, putting up with my incessant questioning and inability to sit still for long.”

Even though she knew no one in Bismarck, Diane said she felt comforted by an instant support group that surrounded her when she arrived in Bismarck. Bill was one of 100 riders in the world selected to compete in the Iron Butt Rally, an 11-day
long-distance event of approximately 11,000 miles that would have taken Bill from Spartanburg, S.C., to Spokane,Wash. When IBR staff heard about Bill’s accident, they contacted a Bismarck member who spent many hours with Diane. Other motorcycle enthusiasts from various organizations volunteered physical and emotional support.

On Sept. 2, Bill opened his eyes and answered questions by squeezing Diane’s hand. She praised his doctors in her e-mail, saying the Sanford Health neurosurgeon “saved my sanity and Dr. (Walker) Wynkoop even made me laugh.”

An orthopedic surgeon at Sanford Health repaired Bill’s shattered wrist. A neurosurgeon oversaw Bill’s head and brain injuries; swelling and blood around Bill’s brain was a constant concern. Diane appreciated the neurosurgeon's calm manner and down-to-earth explanations.

Spending long hours in the ICU, Diane observed to her email network, “The nurses work three or four days, 12-hour shifts, with the same patient. That gives them great continuity not only with the patient in the bed ... but also the family, although sometimes I feel like I’m the second patient in the room.”

From the beginning of Bill’s ordeal, Diane planned to transfer him closer to home once he was physically able to travel. By Sept. 8, that day had come.

A medical jet service flew Bill to Nyack Hospital. Later, he was transferred to Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y., for rehabilitative therapy. Sixty-five days after the accident, Bill returned home.

A year after the accident, Bill says he is doing great. In August he passed his driving evaluation and is again able to drive. Last fall, he returned to his job as an elementary school art teacher. Both were accomplishments that Bill and Diane had been told probably wouldn’t happen for several more months, if ever.

“So, four ambulance rides, three hospitals, two states, one plane trip and 365 days later, we see the end of this journey and the start of a new one,” Diane said. “Bill didn’t win the Iron Butt rally, but he ended up in a bigger rally, the Iron Bill Rally. This is one he is definitely winning.”

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