Inside Trauma Center Care: Equipment Fail on the Slopes

This is the third and final post in a series of trauma patient stories from surgeons at the Center for Oral Surgery & Dental Implants. They’re among 13 oral surgeons who take turns on call at a Level I trauma center that draws cases from all over West Michigan.

Downhill ski racer Georgette Sake, now 16, of Cadillac was hitting a slope February 24, 2021 after a competition at Caberfae Peaks. Suddenly, the binding came loose on one of her skis. Trying to proceed on the other, she collided with a tree—and the impact broke her helmet, a POC-brand racing model of recent construction. She also broke an arm and suffered internal injuries.

“Georgette was doing things right,” says Emily Van Heukelom, DDS, a surgeon at the Center for Oral Surgery & Dental Implants. “She was wearing her helmet. She was skilled enough to be skiing where she was. But she had an equipment malfunction.” Again, there’s a bright side. “Having the appropriate helmet probably saved her life,” Dr. Van Heukelom. “It certainly saved her from a devastating brain injury.”

Georgette was transported to to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. As the surgeon’s notes report, she suffered “a severely comminuted and displaced fracture of her left mandibular angle and body, a minimally displaced fracture of the right mandibular parasymphysis, as well as multiple fractures of the left maxillary sinus and floor of the orbit.”

A long road to recovery       

Georgette has responded well to treatment, which stabilized bone to allow healing and aligned the teeth. Some pain has developed around tooth #18, but that’s no surprise. “That molar was deeply embedded in the fracture segments, and I used it short-term to help stabilize things, knowing that it wasn’t going to be a good tooth for her long-term,” Dr. Van Heukelom explains. Soon she plans to extract that molar and remove one of the adjoining plates. Then, after letting the bone grow stronger for a few months, she will address a wisdom tooth that was displaced by the injury.

In the meantime, Georgette and her mother, Andrea Sake, are more than happy with the care Georgette has received. Asked about Dr. Van Heukelom, Andrea responds: “Oh, my gosh! We love her!”

Georgette’s case shows how trauma can create continuing dental issues. “Some of Georgette’s lower front teeth have been displaced,” says Dr. Van Heukelom. “They’ll probably be fine for years. But when she’s in her 40s or 50s, they may start to fail. Knowing that she has this trauma history might influence a dentist’s decision whether to use neighboring teeth to create a bridge or go with dental implants or other choices down the road.”