When Jude William Winfree is born next month, it won’t just be a celebration of his life.
It will commemorate his father’s, too.
After all, T.C. Winfree probably shouldn’t be here. And he wouldn’t—if not for the skilled medical team at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital. Jude’s expected due date is exactly one year from when his dad nearly lost his life in a skiing accident.
“(Pocahontas Memorial Hospital is) the reason he is here today,” Laura Winfree said about her husband. “He shouldn’t be alive. The doctors all said it’s truly a miracle he’s still with us.”
The miracle began with a family trip to Snowshoe Ski Resort. While T.C. is skilled on skis and snow, Laura admits she’s a novice. That’s why, for her, a day spent in the comfort of their villa sounded more fun than T.C.’s plan to hit the slopes.
Laura expected a call from Snowshoe’s ski school, but the voice on the other end of the landline (cell phone coverage is notoriously spotty throughout Pocahontas County) was that of a ski patrol member.
Her husband had suffered a catastrophic injury. “He fell two minutes after he left me,” Laura said.
Because the mountains and valleys were shrouded in fog, helicopter transport wasn’t possible. Instead of a quick ride through the air, T.C. was in the back of an ambulance for the 30-mile trip along winding mountain roads to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital (PMH.)
In patient care, this is called the “golden hour.” It is often the difference between life and death.
Make no mistake about it. T.C. was close to death. Before that fateful phone call, before that harrowing ambulance ride, rescuers had arrived at a grim scene: T.C. was rendered unconscious by the trauma of his fall—and a deep laceration that nearly ran from his knee to his back. The first responders had to apply a tourniquet, but it was almost too late. The amount of blood he’d lost is often fatal.
Laura’s arrival at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital was surreal. “Everyone was running around as you see in the movies. The doc came and talked to me directly. At the time, I didn’t know the severity. I kept thinking, ‘how bad could it really be?’ (The doctor) was forward with me. He said, ‘It doesn’t look good, but we’ll do everything we can.’”
Laura collapsed. T.C. was her high school sweetheart, but they’d only been married for four months. “We weren’t sure he was going to make it. I kept thinking we’re supposed to have more time,” she said.
That time is the gift PMH gave T.C. and Laura Winfree.
T.C. arrived with a tourniquet in place, causing him a great deal of pain. He asked the doctors if they could remove it; the ER doctor explained that it was keeping him alive. PMH medical staff couldn’t find the source of the bleeding and weren’t equipped to perform the surgery needed to stop it. They had enough blood to ensure safe transport to the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, an hour away. There, T.C. underwent surgery to identify the source of bleeding and minimize it enough that he could be safely transported to Charleston Area Medical Center, a Level One trauma center. There, surgeons repaired his femoral artery.
But it’s the small-town, rural hospital that the couple credits with saving T.C.’s life. “Their expertise, skill level, and knowledge … is amazing,” Laura said, and comparable to what you’ll find in a more urban area. The Winfree family lives in Richmond, Virginia, where a hospital like PMH “is no bigger than a patient care facility—a place where you go to get an antibiotic,” T.C. said. “It’s amazing what (PMH) can do.”
There is one difference, though. Medical care is one thing. Emotional care is something else entirely. That’s what sets PHM apart, Laura said. Hospital staff comforted Laura while the medical team saved her husband.
“You go to a big hospital and don’t interact with the doctors or staff,” she said. “PMH made us feel like people.”
That’s why T.C. believes PMH needs to expand and add more services and equipment. If those were already in place, T.C. said he could have stayed at PMH for his treatment. “With it being so small, they did all they could for me there,” he said. “That’s why they had to move me somewhere else. If they were better equipped, I might not have had to go somewhere else.”
The Winfrees urge the community to support PMH’s capital campaign to expand the facility and add additional services. The campaign calls for expanding the emergency room, adding a rural health clinic and an operating room for day surgeries, and preventative care services like mammography.
As “the closest hospital to a town like Snowshoe, I would hope the people would want to invest in something of that magnitude, especially when they’re able to save someone’s life in such a traumatic accident,” T.C. said
A year out from the life-threatening ordeal and the close arrival of a new child to their blended family of six has given the couple a new perspective on life.
“I forge forward,” T.C. said. “Never forget, but you gotta keep moving on.”
The family said they may return to Snowshoe someday. “The children loved it,” T.C. said. “I’m sure we’ll go back, but I may stay in the cabin and cook,” he joked.
To make a donation to PMH’s Capital Campaign, you may send a check to Greenbrier Valley Community Foundation (GVCF), the fiduciary partner of Pocahontas Memorial Hospital. GVCF is a non-profit organization that serves the Greenbrier Valley (Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas counties) to manage charitable contributions and manage funds. PMH has partnered with GVCF for our “Building on Our Past, Building for Our Future” campaign. Mail your check to: Greenbrier Valley, Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1682, Lewisburg, WV 24901. In the memo line, please write PMH campaign.
You may also donate online via PayPal on the GVCF site: https://www.gvfoundation.org/donate-contact