At the end of a work day in October 2011, Ronnie Reitz was driving to meet his sister and brother-in-law when he hydroplaned and hit a tree. Firefighters from three stations worked 27 minutes to get him out of the car, then sent him to The Ginni and Richard Mithoff Trauma Center at Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital.
Ronnie’s wife, Dayna Window-Reitz, a labor and delivery nurse at Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, was charge nurse that day. Alerted by her sister that Ronnie was late, she started calling him. Eventually, his phone was answered by a police officer who mistakenly referred family members to the wrong hospital. When they tracked him to Ben Taub, they were able to recognize the “26-year-old male” who was unidentifiable due to facial injuries.
“When I arrived at the hospital, I was in full-force nurse mode,” Dayna remembers. A graduate of UTHealth School of Nursing, she says, “I’m so glad my nursing education was thorough and well-rounded.”
In addition to facial trauma, Ronnie suffered a traumatic brain injury, crushed pelvis, broken femur in the left leg, a deep gash in his right leg, broken sternum and collapsed lungs. He was not stable enough for surgery.
“My husband is a true-life miracle. His Glasgow Coma Scale was three — the lowest he could be graded. Ben Taub saved his life. The trauma team sees the worst of the worst. They knew what to do and believed in a good outcome. They went above and beyond. I believe that if he had been sent anywhere else, he would have died. I’m grateful they believed in him.”
Ronnie was transferred for surgery and spent 25 days in ICU. It was during his stay, still in a coma, that Dayna celebrated their first wedding anniversary. “I brought the top layer of our wedding cake to the hospital. I ate a slice and touched his lips with the icing.”
Ronnie spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital and another month in a neuro-rehab facility to begin the transition from acute care to home. Today, he has outpatient therapy three days a week: physical, occupational, speech and social interaction. He has no memory deficit, speaks well and has returned, two days a week, to his job as fiscal planner for Be A Champion, a non-profit after-school program for underprivileged children.
“It’s been hard,” says Dayna, who’s writing an inspirational book. “It’s about what it’s like to be in my shoes. I want people to know that you can’t give up. At the end of the day, it’s God you’ll call on. Believe in God. Believe in yourself.
“This has made us realize that life is short. Something can happen in a minute. It’s made me a better nurse and a better person.”