For nearly two weeks last summer, Chris Rotella lay in a medically induced coma while a specialized life-support machine attempted to heal the effects of the second- and third-degree burns that covered 60 percent of his body.
Rotella, then 27, had been rushed to the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital Burn Center after being critically injured in a boat explosion in Fort Lauderdale. Rotella survived those first few uncertain weeks, and nine months later he continues on his road to recovery.
In gratitude to the physicians and facility that saved his life, Rotella’s family recently helped organize the 6th Annual Sparky Challenge Bowling Tournament, which raises funds for the UM/JMH Burn Center.
A substantial portion of the proceeds raised this year came courtesy of The Salah Foundation, a private charitable foundation based in Fort Lauderdale that has a particular interest in education, medical research, community development and self-sufficiency programs aimed at the economically disadvantaged, the young, the elderly and the disabled.
The foundation agreed to match and double all donations up to the first $50,000, resulting in a $100,000 grant that helped put the total raised from the tournament at more than $185,000.
“We’ve been given a great gift,” said Bill Rotella, Chris’s father and president of The Rotella Group, Inc. “We’ve been given our son back, which is a gift that only God and great medical science can give to us. Now, we are trying to pay it forward and make it a little easier for others who may have to go through the same thing.”
More than 300 people took part in the fundraiser June 4 at the Manor Lanes Bowling and Sports Den in Fort Lauderdale. Bowling alongside them was Chris Rotella, who thanked his supporters and also introduced his fellow survivors from the Burn Center who came to bowl.
“Today is awesome, thanks to all of the doctors and nurses,” Rotella said. “The technology and passion that you guys have is what is saving lives every day and will continue to save lives.”
Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to help buy a skin resurfacing laser that will significantly reduce burn scars, helping with both the physical and emotional side effects of burn injuries.
“The specialized care that we will be able to provide with the laser machine will continue to set us apart,” said Louis Pizano, M.D., MBA, medical director of the UM/JMH Burn Center, professor in the Dewitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery, C. Gillon Ward Endowed Chair in Burn Surgery, chief of the Division of Burns, and director of the Trauma/Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program. “It will provide the much-needed scar repair that helps burn survivors in their healing process.”
The University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center is one of the leading burn treatment facilities in the nation and is the only American Burn Association verified burn center in Miami-Dade County and one of only two in the state of Florida.
Care is delivered through a comprehensive team approach to specialized services, cutting-edge technology, and a dedicated team of health care workers.
In addition to Pizano, patients are under the care of fellow Miller School surgeons Nicholas Namias, M.D., MBA, professor of surgery, vice chair of quality and patient experience in the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery, Robert Zeppa Endowed Chair in Trauma Surgery, chief of the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, and medical director of the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson, and Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., professor of surgery, Eunice Bernhard Endowed Chair in Burns, director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center, and associate director of the surgical residency program.
The physicians work in collaboration with nurses, social workers, nutritionists, occupational and physical therapists, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and wound technicians from Jackson Memorial.
Rotella spent 48 days at the burn center. At one point, when his lungs failed, and he was too ill to be operated on, his doctors used an innovative technique known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO. While common for open heart surgery, it had only been used a few times to help burn victims.
ECMO provides temporary life support that aids in the process of healing wounds. Through a pump, blood is removed from the body, oxygenated, and then returned to the patient. The treatment takes over the work of the lung and sometimes the heart, giving the body time to recover. Severe burns can impact nearly every system in the body, and physicians say they are constantly looking for new ways to improve the survival and recovery of burn patients.
“The funds raised are going to allow us to benefit burn survivors for years to come and improve their lives beyond what you can imagine,” said Schulman.
In past years, the bowling tournament primarily featured competition between local fire departments, with the City of Marathon Fire Department serving as the reigning champion. By the end of the day, the title shifted to the team from Fort Lauderdale, which fittingly included some of the first responders who rushed to the scene to help Chris Rotella.
“I am overwhelmed. This is the most successful event we have ever had,” said Pizano. “I would like to personally, and on behalf of the UM/JMH Burn Center, thank the Rotella family and everyone here for their support.”