Eddie Wohlleber and “Little Eddie,” his 7-year-old son.
Eddie Wohlleber and "Little Eddie," his 7-year-old son.

When Huntersville, North Carolina resident Eddie Wohlleber took a dangerous fall in March 2013, the traumatic brain injury he suffered almost cost him his life. But thanks to emergency treatment at Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville and seamless care across Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals, Eddie had a happy ending that culminated in a poignant reunion with the physician who helped to save his life.

Wohlleber was 39 when he slipped and fell on the hard concrete of his garage. He tried to rest it off, but by the next day, he still wasn't eating, drinking or talking.

"My family realized that something was wrong," said Wohlleber. "I was really in rough shape."

That's when they took him to the nearby freestanding emergency department Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville. Board-certified emergency medicine physician Edward McCutcheon, MD, sprang into action to care for Wohlleber, and testing soon uncovered brain swelling and bleeding on his brain.

"The combination of bleeding and swelling of the brain is a very serious condition that often indicates significant trauma," said Dr. McCutcheon. "We knew we had to act quickly to save his life, and I'm proud of the amazing team of nurses and staff that came together to provide the lifesaving care he needed."

Coordinated Care

After making the troubling finding, Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville staff stabilized Wohlleber and had him airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC for further treatment. Doctors there determined that he needed a craniotomy to stop the bleeding and reduce the swelling, but when he didn't improve after the procedure, he was induced into a coma.

"It didn't look good," said Wohlleber, "but my family didn't give up hope."

Their perseverance was soon rewarded. When doctors performed a second craniotomy, Wohlleber's swelling and bleeding both diminished, and he began the journey to what doctors described as an amazing recovery.

The Road to Recovery

After two months of speech and occupational therapy at Carolinas Rehabilitation in Charlotte, NC, Wohlleber was back to feeling normal. And as time went by, his thoughts often turned to the staff at Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville who helped him get the care he critically needed.

On a recent January day, he returned to Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville with his seven-year-old son to thank Dr. McCutcheon and let him know that things had turned out for the best.

"I had goosebumps shaking his hand and talking to him," Wohlleber said of the meeting. "It was great meeting him – I feel like he's the reason I survived."

Dr. McCutcheon was touched by the reunion as well. "Very rarely do we have patients return to visit and update us on how they are doing, but when we do, it's incredibly rewarding," he said. "It meant a lot to be able to see him again and to know that everything had turned out well.  Just to see him there with his son touched me by knowing we were able to save his life so he could be there for his family.  In my entire emergency medicine career, this one patient experience has truly touched me personally."

Wohlleber remains grateful for all the care he received across the system, but says he feels especially thankful for Carolinas HealthCare System Huntersville and the care it provided.

He and Dr. McCutcheon both agreed that having top-notch emergency staff right around the corner with the ability to handle any life-threatening emergency is what saved his life.

"Who knows what would have happened if that emergency room wasn't there," said Wohlleber. "I'm still here and I'm still breathing, and I know how lucky that makes me."