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Brookdale Hospital Honors Dr. Patricia O’Neill, Leader in Trauma Care

By Mary Alice Miller
In recognition of National Trauma Awareness Month Brookdale Hospital lifted the memory of Dr. Patricia O’Neill, a nationally known leader in trauma surgery and research. Dr. O’Neill was taken from the One Brooklyn Health community due to a tragic car accident earlier this year. Dr. O’Neill was an advocate for trauma patients in Brooklyn for over 30 years. She provided highly skilled, life-saving trauma surgery and trained the next generations of surgeons skilled in trauma research.

Dr. Jason Hershberger said the Department of Psychiatry works closely with the trauma team regarding the psychological toll of devastating injuries on victims. “The human mind is really strong, it can deal with the unbelievable. It can endure what seems like the unendurable,” said Dr. Hershberger. “Trauma hurts. It hurts us emotionally. There can be scars that you can’t see, scars that need support and help. That help can come from a loved one. For many of us that is enough, but not for all. Not every person and not every injury is the same.”
Dr. Hershberger explained that sometimes when people go through a trauma, they can go through an emotional reaction. Some people will have an intense emotional reaction that can cause feelings that are hard to manage: fear, anger, guilt, and shame.

“It takes emotional work to get through it, to process those feelings, to share them, to settle them in ourselves so we can move on,” said Dr. Hershberger. “Every once in a while it is harder to get through it. When that happens those feelings can become over-reactive, feeling anxious when there is nothing to feel anxious about, to feeling on the edge of losing your temper, on the edge of losing the stability of your mood.” Dr. Hershberger called that condition post-traumatic stress disorder, where people can feel the emotional injury of the trauma and it can linger even when the physical and spiritual recovery is done.
“There is treatment: talking to someone, therapists, and sometimes a medicine can help people recover,” said Dr. Hershberger. “Getting treatment for the emotional is important for a full recovery.”

Dr. Ramy Abdel-Naby, Chief of Trauma explained Brookdale Hospital’s trajectory into trauma care. “Brookdale has been taking care of injured patients for over 42 years,” said Dr. Abdel-Naby. “In 1982 we became a Level 1 Trauma Center. In 2016 we became a Level 2 Trauma Center verified by the American College of Surgeons. In 2016 we joined under the umbrella of One Brooklyn Health.
Currently, we serve the area of Brownsville, Canarsie, and East New York
but under the umbrella of One Brooklyn Health, our reach extends even further.
In 2021 we opened a state-of-the-art ICU. In 2022 we saw almost 2000 traumas coming through our emergency rooms: 556 of those traumas were Level 1 Traumas, the highest activation criteria, and the sickest of patients. Of all those patients 461 were victims of some sort of penetrating injury: stab wound, gunshot injury… That is nearly 25% of the patients we see. We have a lot to do in our community in terms of safety and injury prevention.”
Dr. Abdel-Naby said Brookdale’s goal is to upgrade to Level 1 Trauma Center. “There is a planned construction of a state-of-the-art emergency room,” he said, “and we want to become the premier academic trauma center in Brooklyn. This community deserves it.”

Dr. Nick Vaccari, Chair of the Emergency Department said, “In trauma care, the emergency department is the first line of defense. There are over interdisciplinary 15 teams taking care of you to put you on that road to recovery.”
Dr. Vaccari said when he was an ER resident in 2005, “The human way Brookdale cares about patients is the best I have ever seen.”
“We should not forget Dr. O’Neill,” said Dr. Tortolani. Here is a woman who started as a nurse then went to medical school at Downstate and did her residency in surgical research. She goes to Jacksonville Florida to do trauma care at one of the best trauma care hospitals in the country. She had gotten 2 NIH grants. She could have gone to any top hospital or medical school in the country. But she goes to Kings County Hospital where she eventually became chief of trauma and a full professor at Downstate Medical Center. She had a great pension and was set for life.”


Dr. Tortolani continued, “But she came here. She became Chief of Trauma. She took a residency program that was in big trouble and fixed it. We have faculty in trauma that is unequaled. Our residents, because they take care of trauma patients as interns and residents and do research, when they apply for fellowships have tremendous surgical and research experience. I was so proud of what they had accomplished under her leadership.”
“Great hospitals are built on surgery, they are not built on medicine. Trauma surgery saves the lives of individual people under extreme circumstances,” said Dr. Tortolani. “We are building a great hospital and much of the credit goes to her. She has dedicated herself to these patients her whole life. What she did for this institution we should never forget.”
A statement from Dr. O’Neill’s family said, “On behalf of Dr. Patricia O’Neill’s family we thank One Brooklyn Health for this recognition. Our family is grateful for honoring Trish for her compassion, love, and commitment to her trauma patients. We are appreciative of the recognition for her dedication to the treatment of some of the patients here today, the thousands she has served in the years past as well as the deep responsibility she felt to teach and uphold excellent care for those who need it the most. We know there is a void within the surgical trauma department both local to Brookdale and as far as the national committees she has served, which is another testament to the lifelong allegiance to her surgical trauma and clinical care work that was so very important to her.”

Others who spoke at the event included a representative from a violence prevention program, and some trauma survivors, including a great-grandmother who was shot while walking using her walker, a man who was shot in his chest in his building, a woman who was shot in her head on the way to the laundry, and a man who was hit by a car.