St. Croix couple involved in hit and run recovers with help from Ryder Trauma Center and Lynn Rehabilitation Center

By: Krysten Brenlla

Kevin Stalbaum, 63, and his wife, Amy Stalbaum, 53, live for adventure. After Kevin worked for the U.S. Air Force and Arizona’s Power and Water Company for years, the couple decided a quiet retirement awaited them in the Caribbean island of St. Croix.

“The scuba diving in St. Croix is amazing. We’re renovating our hurricane-damaged dream house on the island ourselves, and there is a great cycling community there,” Amy said. “Cycling is one of our favorite things to do together.”

They never thought the activity they loved the most would almost cost them their lives.

On September 17, the Stalbaums began their bike ride at 6:45 a.m. Less than 10 minutes into their ride, a car crashed into both of them from behind.

“We’re both experienced cyclists, and we do everything we can to be as visible and as safe as possible,” Amy said. “Despite our precautions, we were hit, and we don’t know why. The driver and the car are still missing.”

The impact from the crash left both Amy and Kevin unconscious on the road. Emergency medical services arrived to the scene and rushed the couple to the nearest emergency room on the island, where doctors diagnosed Kevin with leg, cervical, and lumbar fractures, and Amy with severe road rash, a brain bleed, and a spinal fracture.

“At one point, I remember being on a gurney, with Amy on her gurney next to me,” Kevin said. “I remember asking, ‘what’s going on?’ And that’s the last thing I remember before waking up in Miami.”

Because of the severity of their injuries, Amy and Kevin needed to be medically evacuated to the nearest trauma center, and by Monday, September 18, the Stalbaums arrived to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial by helicopter, where they were prepped for emergency surgery.

“The first thing we had to do with Kevin was make sure he was stabilized from a cardio pulmonary standpoint,” said Stephen Shelby Burks, Jr., MD, a UHealth – University of Miami Health System neurosurgeon and spinal cord surgeon at Jackson. “He needed a collar due to his cervical fracture, and a custom lumbar brace. For Kevin’s lumbar surgery, we used a CT-based navigation surgical system, which enabled us to direct the screws in the exact position needed. With this procedure, we hope to mitigate Kevin’s pain, and avoid any deformities in his spine from forming in the future.”

At the same time, Amy was also undergoing spinal surgery.

“The ligaments of Amy’s spine were ripped apart,” said Evan J. Trapana, MD, a UHealth orthopedic spine surgeon at Jackson. “Amy is very young and active, which is why we went the route we did by placing rods and screws in her spine to stiffen the spine’s structure, giving her a stable construct for her body to weigh on. In six months, when everything is healed up, we’ll remove the rods and screws to preserve most of her motion and lower the risk of her needing future spinal surgery.”

Amy’s surgical team used robot-assisted surgery to place the screws and rods in her spine; Jackson Memorial is one of a few hospitals in the nation with the robot technology available for use in spinal surgery.

“It really helps us, as surgeons, safely implement screws with pinpoint accuracy,” Dr. Trapana said. “It also shaves time in the operation, and provides a better recovery rate for patients.”

After spending nearly three weeks in the hospital, the Stalbaums were discharged on October 10. They received rehabilitation therapy at Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial, and created comprehensive plans with therapists to help with their mobility, balance, endurance, and strength.

With the help of physical, occupational, and cognitive therapies, the couple look forward to making a full recovery, so they can return to St. Croix.

They’re grateful to the teams at Ryder Trauma and Jackson Memorial for not only saving their lives, but giving them the chance to keep their adventures going for years to come.

“We count our blessings that we landed here,” Amy said. “Jackson’s staff and our community back home in St. Croix really helped us get through this.”