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“Good Samaritan” Accident Victim Works With Neurosurgeon Who Saved Her Life Nearly Six Years Ago Has Made Outstanding Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury
Jenna Poulos has always believed in helping others. This explains why, on the way home from work November 28, 2004, she stopped on the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway to help a motorist broken down in the left lane. The 21-year-old North Massapequa resident became involved in a devastating chain-reaction accident that nearly killed her. Now, almost six years later, despite having suffered a serious traumatic brain injury she is doing remarkably well – and working in the office of the neurosurgeon and physician’s assistant who saved her life.
“We thought Jenna would never be able to speak and do many of the things she was able to do before,” says neurosurgeon Donald S. Krieff, DO, FACOS, who operated on Jenna. “Many people who suffer a brain injury like Jenna’s are not able to live a normal life, but she is doing just that – working full-time, living independently, and enjoying her friends and family.”
At the time of Jenna’s accident, Dr. Krieff was Chief of Neurosurgery at Nassau University Medical Center, where Jenna was taken after the accident. He is now affiliated with Neurological Surgery, P.C., a private practice of leading neurosurgeons. Jenna has been working as a receptionist in the practice’s West Islip office since February 2009. The accident caused bleeding on the left side of Jenna’s brain, her dominant area. This created a very dangerous, touch-and-go situation. “She was not well off,” Dr. Krieff says.
Dr. Krieff, physician assistant Keith M. Burger, RPA-C and the team performed a decompressive craniectomy, a last-resort procedure in which half of the skull is removed for a time in order to allow the brain to swell. Without a craniectomy, the skull compresses the brain and restricts blood flow, leading to potentially dangerous and even fatal results.
An estimated 17 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. Considered the “signature wound” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, nearly a third of serious brain injuries lead to permanent disability. TBI can cause a range of short and long-term changes that affect thinking, sensation, language and emotion. Although estimates vary, up to 80 percent of people with severe traumatic brain injury do not return to work.
Jenna is one of the lucky ones, but her road to recovery has not been easy. In addition to her brain injury, she suffered severe injuries to much of her body. Dr. Krieff put her into an induced coma right after her surgery to protect her brain and reduce intracranial pressure. While in the ICU, Jenna experienced numerous complications, including sepsis – a very serious blood infection – and pneumonia, and was ventilator dependent throughout her initial hospital stay.
Jenna left the ICU after a month, spent another month at a TBI unit at the medical center, then spent many more weeks in inpatient rehabilitation, followed by months of outpatient rehabilitation.
When Jenna first came out of the coma, she had to relearn how to walk and couldn’t get off the bed, she says. She had problems formulating sentences, and then started having seizures, for which she again had to be hospitalized.
Dr. Krieff helped Jenna and her family throughout this ordeal. In a letter, Jenna’s parents, Terry and Bruce Poulos, say that Dr. Krieff and Keith Burger, “checked on Jenna twice a day and always let us know what her condition was, in a compassionate and truthful way. You made yourselves very accessible to us at the most difficult time in our lives.” Mrs. Poulos reports that Dr. Krieff responded to their questions and concerns throughout, giving them his beeper number and helping them navigate the health care system.
Jenna needs to take many medications to deal with the aftermath of the accident, but is “living as normal a life as anyone,” she says. “I feel good, exercise and enjoy hanging out with my friends, watching movies and reading. I’m just glad to be alive.” She still enjoys helping people, including the patients she greets and assists as they arrive at the Neurological Surgery office, many with very serious health problems.
Now age 26, Jenna loves her job, and is thrilled to be working with Dr. Krieff and Keith Burger. “It is so awesome to be working with them,” she says.
The feeling is mutual. “Jenna is great to work with – the quickest wit in the office,” says Dr. Krieff. “We’re all glad that she made this recovery.”
December 12, 2011
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