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Dan Liljenquist: U.S. health care system still has much to admire

SHARE Dan Liljenquist: U.S. health care system still has much to admire

Friday evening, I received a call on my way home from work that my 13-year-old son, Jacob, had been seriously injured while riding a razor scooter. When I arrived at the accident scene about 10 minutes later, I found my boy in agony with several of our neighbors trying to make him as comfortable as possible. One look at his displaced foot and swollen ankle was all I needed to know. We had to get him to the hospital.

Our neighbors helped my wife, Brooke, and me load Jacob into our minivan. Brooke held his lower leg and ankle in a bed-sheet sling while I drove as fast as I could to Primary Children's Medical Center. It was an emotional trip as the initial shock wore off and my son's pain became excruciating. As we made our way up the hill, I was grateful to live in Utah where we have world-class health care.

When we arrived at Primary Children's, the medical professionals took over. Within minutes Jacob was examined by a pediatric emergency medicine specialist and had intravenous pain medication coursing through his veins. X-rays were ordered by this doctor, completed by excellent X-ray technicians, and interpreted by a pediatric radiologist. The pediatric orthopedic surgeon on call that evening diagnosed a tri-plane fracture, a bad break through the ankle growth plate, which only occurs in young adults between ages 13 and 15.

At around 9 p.m., less than three hours after we arrived at Primary Children's, Brooke, Jacob and I met with the pediatric orthopedic surgeon and a pediatric anesthesiologist. They explained very clearly and patiently the necessity of the surgery, the likely outcomes and the associated risks. Shortly thereafter, Jacob was wheeled into the operating room.

The surgery was a success, and four screws now hold my son's ankle together. I spent the evening on a pullout bed by his side. Throughout the night, excellent nurses monitored Jacob's vital signs and pain levels. We left Primary Children's on Saturday afternoon knowing that our son received the very best of care.

Over the last few days, I have reflected on the care Jacob received and compared it to the care I received nearly five years ago in Guatemala after surviving a plane crash. While I broke my left ankle in much the same way Jacob broke his right, my care experience was dramatically different. Pain management was primitive (all I received was intravenous ibuprofen). Imaging equipment was poor (my Guatemalan surgeon could not tell from the X-rays if my ankle was actually broken, when it was splintered into 16 pieces). Nursing care was inadequate (improperly fitted splints caused painful and disfiguring pressure sores on my ankle). The first hospital I was taken to in Zacapa, Guatemala, was filthy, with dirt and insects visible on the walls and ceiling as they wheeled me to the operating room. The nurses stabilized my leg by placing it in a wooden form covered in dried blood. But for massive doses of antibiotics after the fact my experience would have been much worse.

With all of the criticisms leveled at our health care system in the United States, I think it is important to remember that there is also much to admire. The care my son received at Primary Children's this last weekend (the same care that is offered to all children regardless of their parents' ability to pay) was exceptional in every way. Every day, similar care is provided to patients of all ages in Utah's hospitals by thousands of skilled medical professionals. These institutions and professionals bless all of our lives.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.