Officer Says Thanks after Meteoric Comeback

Police officer stands with police chief and family

Nick Gattermeyer (in cap), with West Chester Police Chief Erik Niehaus, mother Theresa Ruhl, and brother Jamie Ruhl.

As a doctor who takes care of critically ill patients in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital, Lori Shutter, MD, often waits many months to hear a patient say thank you. Sometimes, patients never recover sufficiently to utter the words at all.

Today, the Director of Neurocritical Care at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute heard the heartfelt “thank you” in practically record time when West Chester Police Officer Nicholas Gattermeyer, 25, was discharged from Drake Center, only two and a half weeks after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

“I usually tell families it will take one to three months before we have a good idea of what will happen,” Dr. Shutter said. “Nick’s improvement is absolutely phenomenal.”

Officer Gattermeyer arrived at University Hospital critically injured and in a coma on November 24 after his cruiser struck a tree in early morning fog. He had suffered bleeding in and around his brain. His seatbelt kept him from striking his head against the windshield, but the impact of the crash resulted in an acceleration-deceleration phenomenon, causing the soft brain to shake within the rigid skull.

“You’ve heard of shaken baby syndrome,” Dr. Shutter said. “A traumatic brain injury of this kind could be considered a shaken adult syndrome.”

Officer Gattermeyer thanked emergency personnel, his doctors and nurses, his family, and fellow officers during a press conference prior to his discharge.

Officer Gattermeyer spent a week in the NSICU. Advanced brain monitoring devices helped the hospital’s neurocritical care team optimize the pressure, oxygen and blood flow to his brain. The team also monitored him around the clock with equipment that can detect very subtle seizure activity that may not be visible to the human eye.

“University Hospital is the only facility in the region that has a dedicated Neuroscience ICU with neuro-intensivists — critical care physicians who specialize in problems of the brain and spine — as well as nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and many other health care personnel who specialize in this type of problem,” Dr. Shutter said. “Other than University Hospital, the nearest hospitals that could provide this level of care are in Cleveland, St. Louis, or Chicago.”

Officer Gattermeyer regained consciousness while in the NSICU and on December 1 was transferred to Drake, where he continued his recovery under the direction of Mark Goddard, M.D., Medical Director of Drake Center’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services and a member of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

Although Officer Gattermeyer has plenty of rehab ahead of him, both Drs. Goddard and Shutter predict that he will be back at work within several months.

“It is extremely satisfying to see someone recover this well,” Dr. Shutter said. “It brings tears to the eyes of even the most experienced team member.  This is why all of us in the Neuroscience ICU at University Hospital do what we do. This is what we hope for with all of our patients.”

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