“There aren’t many careers where you can save or change a person’s life for the better”: Meet Chris Jordan, consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon

To mark the launch of the second series of Channel 4's Emergency, we are publishing a series of Q&As with key staff involved in our major trauma centre.

Major trauma is made up of various specialist and expert teams who care for patients with the most severe injuries and support them on their journey to recovery. Here, Chris Jordan, consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, gives an insight into how these teams come together at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and his role in caring for Zoltan, a patient who was brought to St Mary’s Hospital with severe crush injuries after being hit by a van whilst walking along a pavement in central London, as seen in Channel 4’s Emergency.

Tell us about your role and work in the major trauma centre – what’s your general day like?

My day-to-day role varies between my primarily orthopaedic commitment and my role as part of the major trauma centre. When I’m responsible for the major trauma team I will typically meet them and do a ward round of the trauma patients in the intensive care unit first thing. After this, we carry out a board round of all the new admissions in the previous 24hrs and the patients already in hospital. Our primary aim is to ensure patients’ injuries are identified and that the relevant specialist teams are involved in their management, providing 360-degree care. We then do a physical ward round of all patients. We’re available 24 hours a day to respond to trauma calls that will attend the emergency department. They are led by our trauma team leaders and supported by the whole array of acute surgical specialties, as well as our anaesthetic and intensive care teams.

What was your role in Zoltan’s care?

Zoltan’s leg was so badly injured that the team had to amputate his leg below the knee, before work started trying to give Zoltan the best chance of walking with a prosthetic leg. My role was primarily as the major trauma team consultant, ensuring Zoltan received coordinated care. I also provided input on his admission regarding his limb injury, along with the plastics and vascular teams, and undertook the surgery to reconstruct his pelvis. I saw him every day during his first week in hospital with my major trauma team hat on and was lucky enough to follow him up longer term as he recovered from his pelvic operation.

It takes a whole team of people to care for trauma patients – can you give us a sense of the scale of the teams and disciplines involved in the major trauma centre, for instance in Zoltan’s care?

Zoltan’s care, like many of our patients, had input from so many different, expert teams. It is hard to list them all without risking leaving someone critical out. He was received by the emergency department and trauma call team. He was then stabilised by our anaesthetic team before attending theatre with plastic surgeons, myself, another orthopaedic surgeon and a vascular surgeon. I performed his pelvic operation later in the first week and one of my colleagues fixed his thumb. There were a number of further operations, performed by three other plastic surgeons, before his final operation on his leg by another orthopaedic surgeon and a plastic surgeon. During this time, he was looked after by our nursing and physiotherapy colleagues, with input from our surgical liaison consultants who expertly manage medical issues in surgical patients. He then had input from our prosthetics centre in Charing Cross Hospital before being fitted with his artificial limb three and a half months after his accident.

What changes have you seen in major trauma in your time at the Trust?

I’ve been with the Trust for just over three years now as I started during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The main changes I’ve seen in this short time are the addition of more surgical consultants with specialist interest in managing major trauma and the increase in TIG fellows – senior surgical trainees about to take up consultant posts who are able to combine their primary surgical specialty interest with experience in managing major trauma. This will only build upon the strength and quality of medical staff across the whole trauma network.

What’s it like being in such a high pressure role where you’re caring for people with often severe and highly traumatic injuries, and supporting their families?

It is incredibly rewarding, particularly when you get to follow-up with patients and see how they’re recovering. There is nothing better than seeing a patient walk back into clinic having returned to their families and the lives they had before their accident. The biggest challenge is separating yourself from the patients to allow you to deliver the best surgical or medical care you can, while remembering they are someone's son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father. It can be a difficult tightrope to walk!

Would you recommend other people consider a similar career path?

There is lots of media coverage about the challenges workers in healthcare and the public sector face. But we don’t see as much about moments, when we have the privilege to see humanity at its most vulnerable and help build it back up. There aren’t many careers where you can go home and truly believe that you saved or changed a person’s life for the better!

Tell us about your other work in the Trust, including outside the major trauma centre.

My primary role is as an orthopaedic surgeon, specialising in pelvic reconstruction but undertaking general orthopaedic trauma, as well as treating patients with hip conditions. I’ve also recently taken on the role of head of the orthopaedic department.

Do you work primarily at St Mary’s or do you work across the Trust’s sites?

About 75% of my time is at St Mary’s but I work across Charing Cross Hospital too. And by the end of the year, I should be working at our Elective Orthopaedic Centre, which is opening on the Central Middlesex Hospital site in north west London. Like all departments we are struggling with the Trust’s aging hospital estates. It would be easier to deliver the high level of care we and our patients expect with increased theatre capacity and the opportunity to implement cutting edge technology like on table CT scanning in the operating theatre.

What was it like being involved in the documentary and having cameras following you?

I was involved in the first series of Emergency and this one too, as I happened to be responsible for some interesting cases whilst the filming team were around. When carrying out operations my attention was focused on the case in hand and I tended to forget that the crew were present. I think it is really important that the public knows about the incredible work of everyone across the Trust and wider trauma network. Most people never think about what happens if you are unlucky enough to need our help and I hope this documentary series helps to raise the profile of one of the best systems of trauma care in the world.

Zoltan’s story is incredibly inspiring – how often are you able to see the impact of your work like this?

Zoltan really is quite incredible. We often see patients go through a whole range of emotions during their recovery. Zoltan was overwhelmingly positive, he never wavered from his belief that he was incredibly lucky to survive rather than incredibly unlucky to have been injured. I have no doubt in my mind that his recovery was bolstered by that belief. Zoltan is one of those patients who has stayed with me. Amongst the thousands I have and will treat, I think I will always remember him. His positivity has been an inspiration to me as it has others.

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