Teenager Susanna Rudner expected sun and surf on her summer vacation, not an accident that threatened to take her leg.

Susanna’s Story

28/Oct/2010

When 15-year-old Susanna Rudner headed out for a summer day of sun and surfing, she expected nothing more than a sunburn and a few scrapes from the sand when unsuccessful at catching waves. She could not have known how memorable that day on Nantucket would be, when one wave led to a very different outcome.

Susanna slipped off her surfboard in such a way that the fin sliced her femoral artery, one of the largest in the leg. A life-threatening amount of bleeding ensued, but nobody would realize the artery had been severed entirely until much later.

Susanna’s father, Steve Rudner, saw his daughter’s fall from the beach. He carried her out of the water and up onto the beach, where two Nantucket lifeguards and a doctor and nurse, who happened to be on the beach, immediately responded and began applying pressure. The nurse advised Susanna’s brother, Quinn, to say goodbye to his sister.

Susanna was taken to Cottage Hospital, where healthcare professionals continued trying to stop the bleeding. Susanna was in immense pain, but her blood pressure was too low for her to receive morphine to diminish the pain. The team at Cottage Hospital contacted Massachusetts General Hospital, and made arrangements to transport Susanna back to the mainland via helicopter. Her mother, Bridget Rudner, joined her, and her father immediately caught a ferry to the mainland, as there wasn’t room for him in the helicopter.

When Susanna arrived at Mass General, pediatric surgeon David Lawlor, MD, and another physician opened up the wound to clean it, and realized that the artery had been severed and was in pieces. They immediately rushed Susanna into surgery, while her mother waited outside, comforted by a nurse.

Left to right: Bridget, Steve and Susanna Rudner at the Storybook Ball, where their story was featured

Left to right: Bridget, Steve and Susanna Rudner at the Storybook Ball, where their story was featured

Doctors asked Susanna’s father if he had any thoughts he wanted to share with them before surgery. He told them: “She’s a remarkable dancer.”

Susanna underwent more than seven hours of surgery, performed by Michael Watkins, MD, to reattach the artery and repair the injured area of her leg. Her first question upon waking up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was to ask if she still had her leg—she did.  Susanna’s nurses and doctors were there throughout the entire process to communicate with her parents, and with Susanna once she awoke.

After the surgery, one of the first things the doctors told Steve Rudner was that Susanna would dance again.

Throughout Susanna’s healing process, the nurses and physicians in the ICU and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit ensured that the Rudner family was an active part of their daughter’s care planning process. From residents keeping Susanna’s parents up-to-date during the surgery, to nurses engaging with Susanna on a daily basis, the family felt comfortable understanding the often hectic processes at a hospital and secure that the professionals they saw every day were fully engaged in Susanna’s care.

Susanna recalls, “I’ve never had such nice nurses in the world—they treated me like a normal person, not someone who’s sick in bed.” Some of Susanna’s nurses and physicians joined her at this year’s Storybook Ball fundraising event for MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

“Every single Mass General doctor, nurse or orderly was incredibly professional, supremely intelligent, confident, competent and at the top of their game. I have never seen any organization where excellence was so universal a characteristic,” recalls Mr. Rudner in a video prepared for the event.

Adds Bridget Rudner: “The care that Susanna received at Mass General from beginning to end was unsurpassed. Unsurpassed.” Since her recovery, Susanna has surfed again. Though difficult for her to imagine in the moments after the injury and the long days after surgery, Susanna has healed remarkably, both physically and mentally, after the traumatic experience. She walks and plays sports, and has plans to become a doctor or nurse in the Army—her experience at Mass General demonstrated to her the importance of providing care and giving back. As a healthy young woman, she has a long life ahead of her to achieve that wish and dream.

Hear Susanna's parents tell their story: