Thrive by IU Health

July 01, 2021

Accident victim grateful to be standing on his own two feet

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Accident victim grateful to be standing on his own two feet

“I’m here for hope.”

That’s what Vimal Patel told the team at IU Health Methodist Hospital when he arrived from California last August. A little more than a week earlier, the 46-year-old had shattered both of his heels in a car accident, and the doctors who initially treated him saw only one course of treatment.

“I was told double-amputation,” Vimal says.

Fortunately, Vimal’s brother-in-law wouldn’t accept that plan.

Looking back on the July 28, 2020 accident, Vimal admits it was caused by his own foolishness. Taking a friend for a “joy ride” in his new twin-turbo McLaren 720S (advertised top speed: 200+ mph), he lost control. “I love race cars,” he says. “I’ve been racing for some time, but this thing was just out of my league.”

Vimal’s friend walked away with minor injuries, but Vimal was not so lucky. Taken to the nearest trauma hospital, he was told there was no way to fix his shattered heels. While Vimal wrestled with his next move, his brother-in-law, Suhag Patel, began searching the internet for other options. “He started researching heel fractures and calcaneus fractures. IU Health Methodist Hospital appeared in his search because of the hospital's connection with the Indy 500,” Vimal says. “After he found Methodist, he said, ‘This is where we need to go.’”

After eight days in a California hospital, Vimal chartered an air ambulance and flew to Indianapolis with his wife, Jayvanti.

It was close to midnight when Vimal got settled into his room at IU Health Methodist Hospital, but the staff immediately went into action, removing bandages and casts and assessing his injuries. Expressing amazement that the hospital was fully functioning at such late hours, even sending him for MRIs and X-rays around 2 am, Vimal was told, “We’re always working here.”

After IU Health Orthopedic Surgeon Brian Mullis, MD – with whom Vimal had consulted before leaving California – performed an initial surgery, he was certain Vimal’s left foot could be saved, but was less hopeful about the right one. However, when he and Vimal consulted with one of Dr. Mullis’ colleagues, IU Health Orthopedic Surgeon Jan Szatkowski, MD, they decided to attempt to save both feet, even though it was not a guaranteed outcome and recovery could be difficult. “The possibility of amputation is always there,” Vimal says Dr. Szatkowski told him. “But at least you can say, ‘I gave it my best.’”

“That brought back that hope in me,” Vimal says.

That hope was well-founded: Vimal emerged from the operating room with two feet.

Grateful patient Vimal Patel
Grateful patient Vimal Patel

At that point, Melissa Mueller, MD, joined the effort as a plastic surgeon … and also as a chief caregiver, Vimal says. “Dr. Mueller was like a mother to me,” he says. “She wanted to make sure I was given every avenue of treatment for my recovery.”

Because Vimal was from California, sending him home between doctor visits and treatments was not practical, so he spent about two months at IU Health Methodist Hospital, finally flying home in mid-September. Waiting for him were his teenage children and his wife’s family, who had moved to California from Texas to lend a hand, even helping to keep his motel business operating smoothly in his absence. “That was like the cavalry coming in,” he says. “They just dropped their bags and said, ‘What do you need from us?’”

Asked to look back and consider what he saw as the turning point in his story, Vimal points to the conversation with Drs. Mullis and Szatkowski, when they were considering whether to try to save both feet. Their confidence and optimism encouraged him to take what, in some ways, was the harder course.

Nearly a year after the accident, Vimal is still recovering, operating at about 70%, he says, doing daily physical therapy and making sure to log at least 5,000 steps a day. He consults regularly with his Methodist team, which continues to impress him with attentiveness. “Why would they care at this point? I should be forgotten,” he says. “These people are very genuine. They are caring.”

Today, Vimal is simply grateful for the opportunity to get back to the life he had before the accident. Well … most of that life. Turbo-charged sports cars likely are a thing of the past for him. “I’m driving much slower these days,” Vimal says.

If you would like to support the hope-giving work of trauma care at IU Health, consider a gift to the Level 1 Trauma Center at IU Health Methodist Hospital. When prompted, select “IU Health Methodist Hospital” as the location and direct your gift to “Other.” When the text box appears, write “Level 1 Trauma Center.” For additional questions, contact Kate Konzen, CFRE, development officer at IU Health Foundation.

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