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Restoring a Face and a Life

May, 2015—It might sound hard to believe, but Joe Coleman considers himself lucky.

After being severely injured in a fireworks accident, he says if things had gone differently, he might be blind or might not have survived. Coleman, a home health nurse, father of five and husband, credits his family for their support and the dedication of his doctors for helping him through the long process of healing that continues today.

His accident occurred in July 2013 during the family’s annual Fourth of July celebration at their home in Poplar Bluff, Mo. “I usually don’t set off the bigger fireworks, but the fireworks stand was giving them away when you spent so much money, so I took a few home,” Coleman recalls. “I’m always very careful, so I made sure everyone had moved to a field, and I was on the driveway setting them off.”

After a few fireworks had gone off, one seemed to not be working and didn’t fire out of its tube. Unfortunately, as Coleman moved closer, the firework exploded, and part of the tube hit him in the face, causing severe facial fractures and injuries to his soft tissue, including “tearing” off his nose, he says.

“I was scared I was going to aspirate on my own blood, and I couldn’t breathe,” he says. “There were a few nurses and doctors at the party, including an emergency room doctor, who immediately called 911. I asked them to take me straight to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. I have seen a lot of trauma in my career, and I knew that’s where I needed to go.”

During his stay at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, he was treated in the emergency department and admitted to the intensive care unit overnight for airway precautions, he adds. The following Monday, Coleman went to Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, where he became a patient of the Washington University Facial Plastic Surgery Center. He is under the care of Gregory Branham, MD, professor and chief of facial and plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, and his partner, John Chi, MD, assistant professor in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, both physicians at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.

“Mr. Coleman had sustained multiple facial fractures to his upper jaw and mid-face and had a severe soft tissue injury primarily to his nose, where he lost quite a bit of tissue,” Dr. Branham explains. “Both Dr. Chi and I evaluated him and saw this as a chance where we could work together to help him.”

Over the course of his treatment, Coleman has undergone multiple surgeries to repair the damage he sustained. He endured having his jaw wired to help stabilize his teeth and ensure that it healed properly. His initial surgeries included repairing his facial fractures and cleaning and closing the facial wounds. 

The primary focus for Dr. Branham and Dr. Chi became Coleman’s nose, which required work to help him gain both function and appearance. He underwent a paramedian (adjacent to the midline) forehead flap for coverage by Dr. Branham and a rib graft to reconstruct the nasal skeleton by Dr. Chi.

Since this last major reconstructive surgery, he has had two smaller surgeries to divide the pedicle (part of tissue graft left attached to the original site) to the flap and revise the forehead donor site scar and correct some residual nasal scarring. His major surgeries are behind him, but physicians will continue to follow him for any changes as he heals, which will take at least a year, Dr. Branham adds.

“We have found that these types of cases often require multiple surgeries. We make the commitment to stay with our patients as long as they want,” Dr. Chi says. “Some patients want to only have what is required, while others want additional surgeries to help with function and aesthetics.”

Although this case is unique, Dr. Branham says the post-traumatic reconstruction procedures Coleman has gone through are similar to those they perform as part of their practice. Whether it is for cancer patients who require reconstructive surgery or a patient seeking a cosmetic facelift, the Facial Plastic Surgery Center provides a wide spectrum of procedures.

“The hospital and the staff were exceptional,” Coleman says. “Dr. Branham and Dr. Chi are very professional, and their office and staff were great. They really talked to my wife and took time to explain things.”

Both surgeons say their patients like the hospital because of the great environment and small feel, but also appreciate the exceptional quality, world-class care and knowledge of the staff.

As Coleman continues his healing journey, he says that he’s grateful that no one else was injured during his accident and that he’s here to share his story. He can’t believe that fireworks injured him, after serving two tours overseas in the Army and never getting a scratch.

“I was very worried in the beginning about what would happen to me after the accident. I kept thinking about my wife and kids. I didn’t want them to lose their dad,” Coleman says. “Now, when I look back at what happened, the condition I am in today is unbelievable. I wouldn’t be like this without the doctors and the support of my family, especially my wife.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Gregory Branham, Dr. John Chi, or any physician on staff at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, click here or call 314-542-WEST (9378).

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