An organ donor gave Patty Grimm her life back. Yet it wasn’t a heart, liver, kidney or lungs that saved her.
“I’ve been an organ donor for as long as I can remember,” says 55-year-old Grimm. “But until my accident, I never considered that, when you agree to be an organ donor, you’re also donating tissue and bone. This is what allowed me to walk again, to have a full time job again … to live again.”
Suddenly In Need: From Organ Donor to Recipient
In May 2011, Grimm was involved in a head-on collision. It was fatal for the impaired driver who hit her and life changing for Grimm and her family.
“I was headed north on Route 20 to Orange, Virginia. It was a beautiful spring day and I was still reeling from spending a wonderful Mother’s Day the day before with my husband, Chris, and son, Beck,” Grimm shares in a blog post featured on the Trauma Survivors Network (TSN) website.
“It all happened so fast. I saw a car driving southbound veer off the side of the road. My first thought was, ‘He’s going to overcompensate and come back and hit me,’” she recalls. “As I took the impact, I remember preparing to die and not being afraid.”
Grimm survived the crash, but with serious injuries. She spent 11 days after the accident at UVA Medical Center, where orthopedic trauma surgeon David Weiss, MD, performed three back-to-back surgeries to rebuild her crushed legs.
She had many more procedures in the months ahead. Weiss and orthopedic surgeon Mark Miller, MD, performed a complex reconstruction of her left knee that wouldn’t have been possible without a bone and tissue donation.
A Bone and Tissue Donation Was Key to Rebuilding Grimm’s Knee
“Mrs. Grimm had a series of injuries, including damage to the posterolateral corner (PLC) or outside of the knee,” says Miller. “Typically, we use a patient’s own tissue to repair ligaments inside the joint. For outside the joint, for bigger injuries or when we have more than one ligament affected, we often use donor tissue.
“This tissue is paramount to the restoration of normal function. And it’s in high demand, especially at hospitals like ours that provide specialized care. Without tissue donors, we wouldn’t be able to do some of these complex surgeries.”
It took two and a half years, 11 total surgeries and hours upon hours of physical therapy for Grimm to fully recover from the accident. During that time, she moved in with her retired parents, who have a one-level home in Madison, Virginia.
Minor accomplishments — stepping off of a curb, walking through the grocery store — became major milestones in her recovery. These baby steps led to even greater things, which Grimm says she’ll never take for granted, including seeing her son graduate from high school and college and getting a new job at UVA.
“Even after all of the surgeries, I was partially permanently disabled. I could not return to my previous career in medical sales,” Grimm writes in the TSN blog post. “I started looking for a new job in Charlottesville. After applying for 136 jobs, I landed a position at UVA as a patient relations representative in August of 2014. I am so grateful for this job, which gives me the opportunity to help others navigate the hospital system and offer empathy and support.”
Paying It Forward
In addition to her job assisting patients, Grimm has been actively involved in helping others impacted by trauma and spreading the word about the dangers of driving under the influence. She speaks regularly at Mothers Against Drunk Driving events, seminars for new student drivers and at TSN meetings.
“I share my story to bring awareness so that people will be more mindful of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I also share it with others who have been in horrific accidents to show them that it is possible for modern medicine to help you recover so that you can go on to have a wonderful, meaningful life,” Grimm says.
Become an Organ Donor
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A key part of this message is urging others to consider organ and tissue donation. “Without tissue donation I would still be alive, but my quality of life would not have been the same,” Grimm says. “Somebody donated the ligaments and bones that helped repair my legs and give me my life back.”
“It’s pretty amazing the number of things covered when you sign the back of your license,” adds Miller. “From eyes to bones to cartilage to vital organs, there is a lot of demand out there. Donors can really make a difference in many people’s lives.”