10:20 AM

Referring Physician Profile: Joel Pickett, M.D.

When Mark Caprio was treated in the emergency room of Huntsville Hospital in Alabama in 2001 for horrific injuries he sustained in an automobile accident, his prospects were not good.

He was in a coma and had multiple skull fractures, as well as bruises and contusions of the brain and extensive bleeding. He also had collapsed lungs and a ruptured spleen.

Joel Pickett, M.D., a neurosurgeon, operated on Mark’s brain while another surgeon, Deepak Katyal, M.D., treated his lungs and removed his spleen. Their collaboration saved Mark’s life.

Dr. Pickett spoke with Spinal Column about Mark’s injuries and remarkable recovery, and explained why emergency room treatment continues to be a regular part of his practice.

Q: How serious were Mark’s injuries?
A: With a global head injury like he had, the mortality is about 50 percent. Of those who do survive, about one in four has a reasonably good life.

Q: What do you remember about his stay at Huntsville Hospital?
A: He was comatose for a while and actually had a cardiac arrest in intensive care, but he responded to resuscitation. Later, he had pneumonia and was very, very sick. But eventually he was weaned off the ventilator and able to respond to commands.

Q: Why did you recommend that Mark undergo rehabilitation at Shepherd Center?
A: We are very familiar with Shepherd Center and send a lot of our patients there.

Q: Why?
A: The main thing is that the patients and families we have sent to Shepherd Center have all spoken so highly about it when they return.

They felt that the physical therapy and occupational therapy was top-notch. And family members, in particular, indicated that they were very pleased with the treatment. They said how pleased they were that all of their questions were answered.

It’s just the whole package. Families feel like Shepherd Center does everything they possibly can to help the patient. That’s what the family wants, and that’s what they do.

Q: When did you first see Mark after he returned from Shepherd Center?
A: The first time I saw him was at my home, not at my office. Mark and my son, Tyler, are friends, and Tyler brought him by the house.

Q: How was he?
A: Very good. He was actually joking around and very engaging. He told me his father told him when he came home that there would be things he wouldn’t remember, and one of those things was that he used to be a stickler for neatness and always kept his room clean. Mark said he told his father: “I don’t think so, Dad. I’d remember that.”

Q: It’s been 12 years since Mark’s injury. How would you assess his progress?
A: He’s really gotten well. He’ll tell you he struggles sometimes, but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t talk to him and dig into it. Considering that he had a global head injury, he’s recovered spectacularly.

Q: Finally, unlike many neurosurgeons, you still treat trauma patients in the emergency room just as you did with Mark. Why?
A: Well, it’s time-consuming, it’s hard work and it’s late nights, but I see that as my job as a neurosurgeon. This is my community and my home. These are my neighbors. I want to take care of them if I can.

Written by John Christensen
Photography by Dennis Keim

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.