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Accident victim gives his take on trauma care

Photo by Jennifer Parks

Photo by Jennifer Parks

ALBANY, Ga. -- James "Junior" Burgess knows more than just about anyone the need for a trauma center here in the Good Life City.

On April 5, 2004, he was traveling down Dawson Road while running a few errands when a vehicle pulling into Target cut off his motorcycle -- resulting in him hitting the car right behind its front tire.

"I remember lying in the road," recalled Burgess, now 33. "I lifted up my shirt and all I could see was blood."

Many thought he would never live to tell about it. He spent a month at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, three months at Grady Memorial Hospital and another two months at a facility in Warm Springs.

"The worst thing about being gone was not being around friends and family," said Burgess.

He spent the better part of four months sedated with his parents by his side, during which time he took in about 300 units of blood and platelets.

"He 'died' five times," said his mother, Jane Burgess. "They told us he could not live with those injuries, and I told them: 'You don't have the final say. God does.'"

Junior Burgess suffered a broken pelvis and an injured leg. He also found out that his gas tank had gone up inside of him, which is evident by scars still visible on his torso.

"I ripped open like a chicken bone," he said. "My intestines had to be put back together inside of me."

Aside from his parents, one of Junior Burgess' most frequent visitors was his daughter -- who was seven weeks old at the time of the incident.

The accident was something that gave those involved a new sense of perspective.

"I don't get to run like I used to, but I'm thankful to be alive," Junior Burgess said. "I get to see my daughter grow up."

In light of all this, he and his family are amongst the area's biggest supporters of Amendment 2. There are a total of three Georgia trauma centers south of Macon, with the closest one to Albany being at Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville.

"If we had to wait for a trauma center, he would not have survived," Jane Burgess said. "We do need a Level 1 trauma center in Albany.

"You never know what is going to happen. We have bad accidents here all the time. People need to stay close to home."

The closest Level 1 center is at the Medical Center of Central Georgia.

Officials at Phoebe have already committed to becoming a designated trauma center if the amendment passes.

It would likely become a Level 2 facility.

"You don't know how bad you need it until you are lying there in the hospital bed away from people you know," Junior Burgess said.

Amendment 2 calls for the approval of a $10 annual fee on the majority of car registrations in Georgia, which if passed on Tuesday, will create a locked trust fund for the purpose of establishing more trauma centers in the state as well as bringing the ones already in place up to speed.

Virgil Anderson, who works in Phoebe's emergency center, also knows firsthand the importance of this measure.

"I knew him (Junior Burgess) years ago; I didn't recognize him at first (when he came in after the accident)," he recalled. "I saw his brother at the hospital and he told me what happened. We didn't think he was going to live.

"If we were a designated trauma center, with trauma surgeons in-house, I think patient outcomes would be better. Phoebe is an ideal place for a trauma center."

There are currently 16 centers in Georgia, only half of the minimum number required to meet the needs of the state's population.

"If Georgians vote yes, it will not only make Phoebe a trauma center, but (bring in) centers in other parts of the state," Anderson said. "It will have an impact on all trauma patients."

The proposed tax is expected to generate roughly $80 million annually.