It was the adventure of a lifetime turned tragic in the blink of an eye.
Just days before Christmas in 2015, Emily Wornes, a young Australian woman, found herself in the care of Sharp Memorial Hospital. While on vacation in Peru, Wornes stepped onto a hotel balcony when a portion crumbled underneath her. She fell four stories and landed on her heels and feet — breaking everything on the right side of her body and damaging her spine and several internal organs.
Through the assistance of Sharp HealthCare’s Global Patient Services (GPS) and Jacquie Schwoerke, vice president of the GPS team, Wornes was transported from South America to Sharp Memorial by air ambulance for emergency treatment. Trauma services were not available in Peru, and it was near impossible to coordinate a medical evacuation to Australia in her delicate state.
“When I arrived at Sharp I was wheeled in on a trundle, the doors flew open and I was surrounded by white light; my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted from the dark outside,” says Wornes in a book she’s now writing about her journey. “Amongst the white light were kind faces, nurses and doctors all there, prepared for my arrival, ready and waiting for me. It was like something out of a movie; they looked almost angelic, immaculate. In that moment, security blanketed me and for the first time since the fall, I felt safe.”
Wornes would remain at Sharp Memorial for one month. Before returning home to Australia, caregivers from the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center and GPS arranged for Wornes to see the Pacific Ocean at La Jolla Shores.
In June 2018, while on a trip Down Under, Schwoerke was able to meet up with Wornes near her home in Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
“Our time together was like no time had passed at all,” says Schwoerke. “Emily told me when she first returned to the inpatient rehab program in Melbourne, she was ordered not to get up and walk for three months. I was shocked.”
Wornes says she and her mother, Janet, would not accept the restrictive lack of therapy. Together, they performed all of the physical training exercises she learned in the six-hours-a-day sessions at Sharp. Once she felt strong enough, Wornes asked to be released from the facility. Back at her parents’ house, she continued to apply all the training learned at Sharp.
Although Wornes has not been able to return to work due to some recovery issues, she mentors teenage girls by sharing her life-changing journey, including learning how to cope with depression and changes to her body and body image, as well as the importance of a strong support system. She belongs to a support group of young women from around the world who have experienced spinal cord injuries, and she is pursuing a degree in holistic counseling.
“Emily is a remarkable young woman who is an inspiration to everyone she knows and meets,” says Schwoerke. “Our patients hold a special place in our hearts and Emily is no exception. Her strength and sheer determination is an incredible testament to her perseverance in the face of difficult circumstances. She is a shining example of why I love the work that I do and why I’m proud of the services we offer people around the globe.”
Wornes says she’s forever grateful to have been transferred to Sharp Memorial from South America. Both she and her mother believe The Sharp Experience they received is what keeps Wornes motivated to work hard and not give up during setbacks.
Although Wornes is still recovering from her injuries, she hopes to one day return to San Diego to share her experience and personally thank everyone at Sharp.