Teenager helps shape NIHR trauma research

Shaping research: Evan and Philippa Burgess
Shaping research: Evan and Philippa Burgess

A brave schoolboy who underwent major surgery after he was injured in a road traffic accident has dedicated his time to shaping healthcare research to thank medical teams who nursed him back to health.

Evan was rushed to hospital by air ambulance after he was involved in a collision with a minibus while cycling along a country road close to his home in North Wales.

The 13-year-old spent nearly a week in intensive care at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where he underwent treatment for multiple injuries – including fractures to his leg, head, spine and both collar bones.

Now he and his mother Philippa have joined surgeons and health professionals for a top-level workshop to prioritise health care research in improving trauma services in the NHS.

But far from feeling out of his depth in a room full of adults, the youngster was keen to have his say and is now urging other young people and families to get involved in research.

And a leading surgeon, whose colleagues helped treat Evan, stressed that patients are experts in their own right due to their first-hand experiences in healthcare – no matter what their age.

Evan, along with his mum Philippa, took part in the trauma workshop in London after recovering from his injuries.

The event was launched by the NIHR in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons and National Clinical Director for Trauma, Professor Chris Moran, to identify key priorities for future research in trauma services.  It was attended by practitioners from multiple specialties, including general surgery, orthopaedics, neurology and plastic surgery.

The mother and son were invited to speak from a patient's points of view at the event. Those attending the workshop split up into different groups to discuss research priorities.

Evan, who is back to full fitness and has resumed riding his bike and playing football, said he was eager to get involved when his surgeon asked him.

“It seemed like a really interesting thing to do,” said Evan.

“I really wanted to do it. Seeing as the hospital team had done such a good job for me it was great for us to have the opportunity to give something back.”

Important step: Daniel Perry, Consultant in Children’s Orthopaedic Surgery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital
Important step: Daniel Perry, Consultant in Children’s Orthopaedic Surgery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

Evan and his mother discussed various areas of potential healthcare research of interest to them, including:

  • whether intracranial pressure could be better monitored through scanning the optic nerve
  • options for operating on wrist fractures
  • whether trauma patients should receive rehabilitation in hospital or at home

Evan continued: “It was really positive. People like me who’ve been in that situation know what it’s like. Whilst my recovery went well it isn’t always the same for everyone so it’s really good for patients to give their opinions so that it can help other patients in the future. Young people can see things from different perspectives.”

Philippa said: “We were both really well listened to and our views were taken on board.

“We were both treated as equal partners. We didn’t feel like the token patients who had to be asked. It felt like everybody really wanted to hear what we had to say and it was really valuable.”

She said that the discussions focused on topics which were relevant to patients, adding: “It was really reassuring to see. It was all about how can we improve outcomes for patients, it wasn’t about can we get better results for our hospitals.”

“It’s a way of us giving back and a way of doing our little bit to say thank you for all the amazing treatment he received. We would happily get involved again.”

Daniel Perry, Consultant in Children’s Orthopaedic Surgery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, was one of the senior surgeons at the event. Mr Perry is an NIHR Clinician Scientist and sits on the research committees of the British Orthopaedic Association and the British Society for Children’s Orthopaedic Surgery (BSCOS). He said the workshop was an important step because trauma is “underrepresented” in health research with a particular need for more research in children’s orthopaedics. He said there are “variations in practice” between hospitals in the way broken bones are treated.

Stressing the importance of public engagement and involvement he said: “It’s really good to have the patients there early on to guide and steer us.

“An important outcome for an orthopaedic surgeon is to get bones on an x-ray as near perfect as possible with surgery, but ultimately for the patient they are interested in whether their arm or leg actually functions well afterwards.  We doctors can focus too much on the technical side.”  

Mr Perry admitted being initially “nervous” about whether Evan and Philippa would feel comfortable on the day, but added: “Evan’s view was held very highly around the table. If Evan said something, everyone listened.  He brought something very different. We are used to hearing other doctors talking, but to have the views of a young articulate person is really quite inspiring.”  

He added: “It is up to us clinicians and researchers to think about involving children and young people because often we overlook it. It’s the way forward, children are as much a part of the team when prioritising healthcare research as the rest of us.”

Finally Evan said: “It’s a really positive thing to do. If people are happy to speak about their experiences they can help patients who have been in the same situation as them. You’ve got to make the best out of it to help other people. You don’t need to be nervous about it.”

“It’s also something good to have on your CV and increased my understanding of orthopaedics and the human body and has given me insights into neurology.”

 


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