Level I pediatric trauma center gives patient miraculous second chance at life

When 6-year-old Lilli Goins was in a catastrophic car accident near her hometown in Pembroke, N.C., her injuries were so severe, first responders told her mom she wouldn’t survive. As fate would have it, though, Lilli was airlifted to N.C. Children's Hospital, now an ACS-verified Level I pediatric trauma center, and experienced a miraculous recovery.

Life can change in a split second. It's a fact Dwayne and Tina Goins of Pembroke, N.C., know all too well. That's all it took for the Honda SUV to cross the center line and crash head on into the Ford Explorer carrying three of their four children and driven by the children's grandmother, Millie Jacobs.

The catastrophic car accident left 6-year-old Lilli Goins barely clinging to life, and she was immediately airlifted to N.C. Children's Hospital. First responders directed her parents to get to UNC as soon as possible. Lilli didn't have long to live, they cautioned.

“When a child experiences a traumatic injury, minutes can be the difference between life and death,” said Kimberly Erickson, MD, medical director of UNC’s pediatric trauma center, recently verified as a Level I pediatric trauma center by the American College of Surgeons, one of only five in the entire Southeast. “At UNC, care waits for the injured child 24/7 rather than the child having to wait for care. The pediatric trauma team can assess, stabilize and treat life-threatening issues in the shortest time possible to give that child the best chance of survival and recovery.”

A bad accident

Lilli was inpatient for more than three weeks recovering after she was brought to UNC, her family (including twin sister, London) by her side.Lilli's injuries were severe.

“The right side of her head was crushed,” recalls Tina, fighting tears at the memory. “There was so much swelling. We didn't think she would make it.”

Dr. Erickson remembers Lilli's case well.

“Lilli was probably one of the most critical patients we had seen the entire year,” she says. “Hers is exactly the kind of case that illustrates the importance of a Level I pediatric trauma center. We have everything that you would need from a pediatric neurosurgeon, to pediatric surgeons, pediatric anesthesia, pediatric intensive care, rehabilitation—all in one place, all the time.”

Lilli was inpatient at the Children's Hospital for more than three weeks, first in the PICU and eventually graduating to a room on 7 Children's. Tina stayed in Chapel Hill the entire time, recording her daughter's day-by-day progress in a journal. Even post discharge, Lilli had a long road ahead in rehabilitation, relearning how to walk, talk and eat. She mercifully has no recollection of the accident and little of her time in the hospital.

And despite the extent of her injuries, Lilli, now 7, shows few signs of her brush with death. She will need additional surgeries on her eye as she grows, and she continues to have difficulties with short term memory, but her family is impressed with the expert care that saved their child.

“She’s a walking, talking miracle,” says Tina. 

Quick Facts about Pediatric Trauma at N.C. Children’s Hospital

  • The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has designated N.C. Children's Hospital a Level I pediatric trauma center, making it the first hospital in the Triangle (and one of only five in the Southeast) to receive ACS recognition for having the highest level of expertise in treating critically injured children. Learn more>>
  • UNC sees over 2,000 children with trauma-related injuries in the emergency department annually.
  • UNC admitted about 250 pediatric trauma patients in 2012; 64 percent were transferred to UNC from Triangle-area facilities and others across the state for a higher level of care.
  • Though second to falls among the leading causes of pediatric trauma cases at UNC, transportation-related injuries (motor vehicle crashes, pedestrians struck, bicycle vs. car, ATV accidents) are commonly seen and account for the most severely injured patients at N.C. Children’s Hospital.

For more on Lilli's story, watch these news features produced by WRAL and WTVD.