May 10, 2022

Patient survives 'car crash from hell,' reunites with UW Health nurses who saved his life

Photo of Dave Schambow, Lisa Pine, Kelsey Spaith-Hilton, Ross Kopfer, Vanessa Gates, Jessica Fall and Jennifer Milz
From left, Dave Schambow, Lisa Pine, Kelsey Spaith-Hilton, Ross Kopfer, Vanessa Gates, Jessica Fall and Jennifer Milz.

Madison, Wis. – Nurses are at the bedside day and night helping patients through some of the most difficult times of their lives, but they don’t often get to reconnect after a patient leaves the hospital.

In honor of National Nurses Week, from May 6-12, and to highlight the incredible impact nurses have on patients’ lives, UW Health is sharing the heartwarming reunion of one patient and his nurses.

On June 12, 2020, Ross Kopfer was on his way to a baseball game with his son when they were involved in a horrific motor vehicle accident involving a semi-truck on the interstate near Madison.

“It was the car crash from hell. My son and I were pulled from our burning truck just in time,” he said. “I would have died that day if it wasn’t for those people who pulled us out and the nurses and care team at University Hospital.”

Both father and son survived the crash, but Ross spent the next two months at University Hospital in Madison getting treatment for injuries all over his body. He went home in August and had some complications, so he was back in the winter and fall of 2021 for more follow-up care.

Ross was on a ventilator early on and nurses became like family because there was a no-visitor policy at the hospital due to COVID-19. He remembered six nurses in particular — two from the Trauma and Life Support Center and four from the Surgical Trauma Unit — who made a significant impact on him and his recovery.

“I had an amazing care team, but there is no doubt in my mind the nurses saved my life. They were there minute by minute and day-by-day getting me through the darkest time of my life,” he said. “I am forever grateful they saved my life. Nurses make such a difference each and every day.”

The nurses who cared for Ross felt grateful as well. Recently, Ross was back at University Hospital and several of his nurses from various departments surprised him, including Trauma and Life Support Center nurses Jennifer Milz and Dave Schambow, who took care of him when he first came to the hospital.

“As an intensive care unit nurse, we don’t often get to see the outcomes with patients,” Milz said. “Ross was a memorable patient. To see him now doing so well, this is why we do what we do — this is as rewarding as it gets.”

“To get Ross through this situation, to get this family through this situation and get him home to his loved ones is incredible,” Schambow said. “I am so glad I got to meet him and that he is doing so well now.”

The nurses from the surgical trauma unit also attended the in-person reunion and like Milz and Schambow, found the experience to be extremely therapeutic. They included: Kelsey Spaith-Hilton, Lisa Pine, Vanessa Gates and Jessica Fall.