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Trent Creswell

Life in Chattanooga in the summer of 2008 was starting out quite nicely for Center for Creative Arts rising senior Trent Creswell. A remarkable student, singer, dancer, writer, and director, Trent had been accepted into the summer program of a prestigious physical theater company and was preparing to further his creative experience. And then… in a split second, on a sweltering summer afternoon in June, Trent’s journey took a life-altering turn.

On that day, a bicycle trip on the North Shore ended abruptly as a speeding Buick station wagon crossed two lanes of traffic and literally met Trent, face to face. Had he not had quick access to the Level One Trauma Center at Erlanger, the end of this story would have left his family devastated in grief.

At Erlanger, doctors worked quickly to try to stabilize Trent’s vital signs. His injuries were extensive; two broken legs, broken pelvis, broken elbow, arm, four vertebra, and jaw. But the most devastating and life threatening injuries were to his face.

According to Trent’s mother, Jinger Wadel, plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Brzezienski explained that Trent’s face was crushed and had been literally "ripped off." Their initial surgical goal was to put it back in place.

Trent initially spent over eight hours in surgery while Erlanger’s trauma and orthopedic surgeons pieced his broken body back together. He spent the first two and a half weeks of his nearly three-month hospital stay in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit in a medically induced coma to allow his body to begin to heal.

Dr. Larry Sargent, chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at the UT College of Medicine Chattanooga, then began the facial reconstruction process to rebuild the bones in Trent’s face, and repair the soft-tissue injuries he sustained.

"The doctors said they have never seen anyone sustain that kind of facial impact and survive," said Jinger.

The accident was a life-changing experience for the 17-year-old, and according to his mother, Trent’s recovery was a "journey of spiritual awakening."

During his stay at Erlanger, it was suggested that he journal his experience and thoughts. This exercise allowed him to not only document his journey, but it empowered him to give voice to frustrations, fears and hopes, as he faced an uncertain future.

Trent’s recovery has been remarkable. After his stay at Erlanger, he began walking in six weeks, there was no lingering brain damage, and he was able to go back to school after missing the first two weeks of his senior year.

Because Trent had a helmet on while he was riding his bike, the remarkable grace of God, and the expertise of the healthcare professionals at Erlanger, Trent has defied the odds and is now back on the road to pursuing his art.

Excerpts from his journal were entered in the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA) YoungArts competition. He was chosen in the top 140 artists in the country from over 6000 entries and was awarded a week-long YoungARTS trip to Miami for workshops and classes. As a result of his week there, he was awarded a silver medal and along with 39 other winners will go to New York in April ‘09 for a week of intensive work at the Baryshnikov Center. He has also been nominated by the NFAA as one of twenty Presidential Scholars in the Arts. Should he win this honor, his work would hang in the Smithsonian Institute.

"It is truly amazing that so much good has come from this accident," said Jinger. "Erlanger saved our son’s life and gave him back his dream."