Hamilton Police Officer Returns to Active Duty Thanks to Capital Health
"There really wasn’t just one person that impacted me specifically. It was everyone.”
On October 2, 2011, Patrolman Robert Whartenby, a nine-year veteran of the Hamilton Township Police Department (at the time), was riding his motorcycle home from a friend’s house on his day off. A car coming through the intersection struck his left side, pinning his left leg to the motor and causing a complete amputation below his knee on impact.
But that day would not define Bob as the years that followed would prove. It would be the start of a roller coaster of emotions and overcoming obstacles that led him through the doors of Capital Health and, almost two and a half years later, back to active duty with no restrictions.
“With all of the unfortunate circumstances, I feel pretty lucky and I attribute most of that to the care I got at Capital Health,” Bob said.
His recollection of the collision picks up after he was knocked off his motorcycle and lying in the street unconscious. “My first memory was lying in the middle of the road trying to roll off to the side of the road to avoid any traffic before first responders arrived,” he said. A bystander named Jesse Williams was at the scene and quickly approached Bob and told him to stop moving and just relax. He applied a tourniquet to Bob’s leg to stop the bleeding, an important act that Bob attributes to saving his life.
Even with the tourniquet, Bob had already lost so much blood. First responders were able to stabilize Bob and take him to the Bristol Myers-Squibb Trauma Center at Capital Health Regional Medical Center (RMC) within minutes. His next recollection was waking up early the next morning stabilized and in the Medical/Trauma ICU at RMC where he would remain for the next nine days.
“The care was top notch. From the nurses to the housekeepers and food tray deliveries, everyone had a smile, introduced themselves and asked how I was doing. They didn’t just put their tray down and leave. They always double-checked everything, and came back later to ask if everything was okay,” Bob said.
“Not only did [Capital Health] have the medical aspects covered, but the personal and emotional aspects were covered as well,” Bob said.
To know how much being an active duty police officer means to Bob, all you have to do is ask about the response he got after word reached his colleagues of the accident.
“As police officers, there’s a camaraderie that exists when things like this happen and [Capital Health] never for one second stood in the way of that,” said Bob. “When I first arrived at the hospital, the place was overrun by my colleagues on the force. One of my nurses told me that she couldn’t turn a corner without running into another cop but they even took the time to offer comfort and support to them as well as my friends and family who were coming in and out. That meant a lot to me.”
But as comforting as the staff was, there was still Bob’s goal of returning to active duty.
“Nobody ever expected me or allowed me to settle. They constantly strive to get to the next step,” Bob said. “The day before I was discharged from the hospital to rehab, a physical therapist came to see me and he said, ‘Before I leave, you’re going to be walking.’ And he was right. Even though I had a fractured pelvis, a broken nose and scrapes and cuts all over my body, I was up and walking before I knew it.”
“That’s when I said to myself, ‘These folks have done this before and they know what they’re doing,’” Bob said.
About six months after the accident, Bob returned to light duty, but he wanted to return to active duty with no restrictions. He asked his prosthetist (an expert who measures, designs, fits and services artificial devices for amputees) about a specialist he could recommend. He also was attending a support group for amputees and asked for a recommendation. The name he kept getting was Stacey Halvorsen, a physical therapist at Capital Health’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Program.
“I walked in that first day with Stacey not even sure-footed. Within 45 minutes, she had me going down the hallway,” Bob said. After four months of hour-long sessions three days a week, he was completing what he calls “the equivalent of a high school soccer practice” with agility drills, weaving in and out of cones, and carrying weights while walking backward.
“Even though this wasn’t in the hospital, the positive attitude and approach was the same. The mindset was, ‘We’re going to push you further and harder,’” Bob said, adding that the culture helped build his confidence that he was going to reach his goal. “I think what I liked the most about Stacey was that she doesn’t just stand there and watch you. She actually does everything with you so that you’re not doing it alone.”
The flexibility to work with his hours helped him continue his light duty responsibilities while still getting the medical care he needed.
“After I was discharged from the hospital, I still had issues with my leg healing so I had to make visits to Dr. Lee [Dr. Daniel Lee, a fellowship trained vascular surgeon and director of the Capital Health Center for Wound Management] at the wound care center early in the morning in order to make it to work on time. That was one of those little things that you can’t expect but you greatly appreciate,” said Bob.
On March 6, 2014, he was officially cleared for full active duty with no restrictions. The experience has left Bob a strong proponent of donating blood (he says he went through two units of blood after almost bleeding out at the scene) and first responder training on how to apply a tourniquet, which he credits with saving his life along with the care provided at Capital Health.
“There really wasn’t just one person that impacted me specifically. It was everyone,” he said.