As someone who cares for newborns, Dr. Herman works to save lives every day. But after a biking accident, it was his own life that needed saving.

News | 3 years ago

Along for the Ride: A Doctor’s Journey on the Other Side of Care

As someone who cares for newborns, Dr. Herman works to save lives every day. But after a biking accident, it was his own life that needed saving.

What happens when someone known for taking care of others needs the care himself?

That was exactly the case for Andrew Herman, MD, chief medical officer at Levine Children’s Hospital and Jeff Gordon Children’s Center, when a serious accident changed his life forever.

One summer Sunday, Dr. Herman hopped on his bike for an easy trail ride through a nearby park, something he does frequently when he needs time to himself. A former competitive mountain biker, he feels comfortable on those trails; he’s ridden through them hundreds of times.

But this time, a single, protruding tree root was all it took to bring his respite to a sudden, painful halt. Dr. Herman flew over the handlebars and heard a distinct crunch as his body crashed against the uneven trail. He knew without a doubt he’d broken several ribs, but that was the least of his worries, as he struggled to breathe. “I knew I was in big trouble right away,” he recalls. “I thought I was going to die.”

Alone in the woods, straining for oxygen, he thought of all the people counting on him – his wife, his kids, his patients – and says he knew this wasn’t his time; it couldn’t be. He had to be there to take care of those people. Dr. Herman, who cares for newborns, started recalling things he does to help his own young patients regain their breath. By taking short gulps of air and grunting, he opened his lungs enough to call 911 and gasp for help.

When the ambulance arrived, he had one request. “I demanded to go to CMC,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else in that moment. And now, in retrospect, I wouldn’t go anywhere else in my life.”

With its nationally recognized Level I trauma center, Dr. Herman knew Carolinas Medical Center, part of Atrium Health, was exactly where he needed to be. And as he was wheeled from the trails to the hospital, in pain and still fighting for life, he knew at least he had a chance.

We’re all family

From the moment he arrived at CMC’s intensive care unit (ICU), Dr. Herman describes the care he received as laser-focused. “It was the first time in my life I had to rely on someone else to save me,” he says. “And it was like there was no other mission on the planet for them than to save my life.”

Dr. Herman’s bike crash left him with five ribs broken in multiple spots and a ruptured lung. Although he was lucky to be alive, his journey to recovery didn’t stop when he arrived at CMC – and it certainly didn’t stop when he went home, either. In the weeks and months following his accident, Dr. Herman underwent rehabilitation to regain his strength and was even readmitted to the hospital two more times – once for another life-threatening bleed in his chest, then finally for lung surgery to clean out the damage from the bleeding.  

Dr. Herman discovered firsthand that the real challenges with getting better start as patients begin navigating life outside of the hospital. But like many patients before him, his care team stuck by his side every step of the way, letting him know what to do and where to go to get the care he needed. “Taking care of patients goes beyond the initial meeting,” explains William Miles, MD, Dr. Herman’s critical care surgeon at CMC. “It’s helping them know what to expect when they leave and preparing them for what can happen next.”

This level of follow-up care, says Dr. Miles, isn’t reserved just for fellow physicians – it’s for all patients. In fact, outside of Dr. Miles himself, not everyone knew Dr. Herman was a provider – to many members of his care team, he was just like any other patient.

“We do our best to treat everyone like family,” says Dr. Miles. “No matter who you are, we take care of everyone the same way. Everyone gets special treatment, so to speak.”

“I was one of the lives that was saved”

Now that he’s been on the other side of care, Dr. Herman has a bolstered appreciation for how important the full care team is. From the doctors to the nurses to the staff who help things run smoothly, he’s thankful for every single person who took care of him. “That team – they have enormous hearts,” he says. “They really helped me through it.”

Dr. Herman describes his accident, injury and the care he received as one of the most significant parts of his life to date – second only to his wedding day and the birth of his kids. “It was a personal experience of total humanity and to this day it’s changed me,” he says. “Now I see the good in everybody.”

Dr. Herman is back at work – he’s even back on the trails, though only on foot these days. He’s seen individual members of his care team in the months since his recovery, but he had one more group to thank.

In early October 2018, over a year since his accident, Dr. Herman surprised his first responder care team and thanked them for everything they did for him – for everything they do for all their patients. “I want them to know that they’re angels, that they’re lifesavers, and that I’m able to take care of my family, patients and teammates because of them – because of what they did that day,” he says. “We’re in the business of saving lives, and I was one of the lives that was saved.”