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It has been more than six years since Traci Wickham was T-boned by a semitrailer while driving her vehicle at the junctions of U.S. highways 81 and 30, but the lasting effects remain.

The Columbus resident said that she still faces many struggles, but noted she is extremely thankful to be alive. One of the major reasons she survived, Wickham said, is because of the top-tier performance given by Columbus Community Hospital staff when she was sped there by local first responders just after 8:30 a.m. on a day in December 2012.

“It was a moment in my life where it could have gone either way,” Wickham said. “I spent what is called the ‘Golden Hour’ at this hospital. I survived because of this hospital …”

Wickham recapped her story of survival and gratitude on Friday morning during the groundbreaking ceremony of CCH’s $35 million renovation/expansion project slated for a 2021 completion.

The undertaking will expand the hospital’s surgical devices department and lead to additional improvements with expansions in other areas of the hospital. The new surgical devices department is expected to include five operating rooms with space dedicated for operations, endoscopic procedures and same-day surgeries.

Additional renovations include new conference rooms, a new cardiopulmonary rehabilitation department and a maternal child health department which will be renovated to include eight rooms for labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum, along with four additional rooms for postpartum care.

The effort is being funded through CCH’s operational budget in addition to donor-designated gifts provided through the Columbus Community Hospital Foundation. In total, the foundation has pledged $2 million, which hospital officials said is its largest single foundation donation for a hospital project since its 2002 inception.

“So we are in a great position financially to be able to do that, and it ensures that we are going to have a great hospital for a long time to come,” CCH President/CEO Mike Hansen said. “And we’re not going to be saddled with a lot of debt.

In total, the expansion will provide about 55,000 square feet of new space and 37,000 square feet of renovated space.

Wickham said the project is thrilling for her because she knows what it potentially means for other patients facing uphill battles.

“I survived that serious accident -- it’s been six years and everyone is a struggle,” she said. “I’ve been through multiple surgeries, and now, maybe some of those surgeries could have happened right here instead of having to go to Omaha or Lincoln. So that’s exciting for me.

She added that she also has a vested interest in the CCH expansion/renovation because her brother works for JE Dunn Construction, the project’s general contractor.

“I have never seen him so passionate and so excited to be part of this community by making our community stronger,” Wickham said of her brother. “He watched me every day go through that challenge of starting in a wheelchair, and going to a walker, and then finally being able to walk on my own. He knew that the Columbus Community Hospital was the start of the recovery.”

A community’s ability to provide the excellent patient care Wickham referred to on Friday is of vital importance, Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley told the gathered audience.

“To have a great community you have to have great health care,” Bulkley said. “And I think that it’s very obvious that Columbus is making quite the commitment to have the kind of health care that puts us above and beyond most, and certainly equal with all. It’s a commitment that’s very obvious … This is just another jewel in the crown of Columbus, Nebraska, and it’s all for you and all for us.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net

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