Emergency Teamwork Keeps a Young Girl's Olympic Dream Alive


Exceptional trauma care saves 14-year-old from horrendous swimming accident

While Lake Bluff’s Ann-Claire Karalyos watched the Olympics from her living room, the 14-year-old dreamt of her very realistic future Olympic aspirations.

Only one thing was in the way of this highly decorated competitive swimmer's future — she was locked in a Minerva body brace down to her waist that she must wear as a result of a horrendous accident. On June 27, during swim practice at Lake Forest High School, she smashed her head on the bottom of the concrete pool, breaking her spine in two places.

“If she didn’t have such a muscular neck, back and shoulders from her years of training and dedication, my little girl probably wouldn’t be here talking to you now,” said her father and workout coach, Laszlo Karalyos.

While Ann-Claire’s superb athletic conditioning clearly helped her survive a potentially devastating trauma to her body, an entire team of people played a crucial role in her stabilization and emergency medical care on that day.

A fellow swimmer, Michael Davitt, along with swimming coach, John Higgins, first attended to her at the Lake Forest High School pool with appropriate backboard stabilization and cervical immobility.  Then a Lake Forest Fire Department EMS team arrived within minutes of the call and did what it does on a regular basis regarding crucial assessment and transport.

Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital's trauma team awaited Ann-Claire’s arrival by ambulance and completed multiple patient assessments — including cervical spine X-rays and CT.  A transfer was superbly coordinated  between Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital’s Emergency team led by Dr. Steven Edelstein and their counterparts at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, where Ann-Claire was transported by helicopter roughly three hours later.

“Many people don’t realize that approximately 35 percent of our Emergency Department (ED) volume is pediatric care,” said Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital’s Director of Emergency Services, Bev Weaver. “All of our ED doctors and nurses have specialized training in both pediatric and trauma care.”

In the aftermath of Ann-Claire’s eight-day stay at Lurie Children's, their Coordinator of Emergency Services forwarded Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital a letter of gratitude and praise from Lurie Children's regarding the care Ann-Claire received at the pool and at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital immediately following her accident — care that should “minimize the damage to her spinal cord and probably give this girl a complete recovery.”

Hope and expectations abound at the swimming medal-laden Karalyos’ home as Ann-Claire continues her battle to have her body heal from a C5 pedicle fracture and C7 burst fracture that impinges her spinal cord. The young girl is now completely restricted from any movement of the upper torso to allow her body to heal. She may need to wear this brace for several months in her freshman year at Lake Forest High School.

For Laszlo, who has taken on the role of fulltime nurse and in-house “medical coach” since the accident, he works to keep alive his daughter’s dream of swimming in the Olympics. The beaming smile from just above Ann-Claire’s body brace leaves little doubt that she will win this uphill battle. “The water’s my second home,” she says. “I need to get back to it.”

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