The party on the Outer Banks was a ton of fun. Until it wasn’t. Elizabeth Dixon — an East Carolina University grad who grew up in Edenton, NC, and the Outer Banks — had just gone down the water slide for the umpteenth time. But as the momentum of landing bounced her body upward, someone else was heading down the slide. The woman’s heels hit Dixon’s upper back with such force that the impact crushed Dixon’s neck. “I remember saying my name and my birthday in my mind to make sure that I was alive,” Dixon says.
Some of her friends thought she was being dramatic. Dixon was screaming. But any Outer Banks party is going to have at least a handful of water-sports enthusiasts who’ve seen their share of injuries — so several people recognized the severity of the situation. They kept Dixon still while yelling for others to call 911.
EMS arrived within minutes and brought Dixon to The Outer Banks Hospital. The doctors told Dixon her neck was broken and that she’d be taken by helicopter to Norfolk, VA. But Dixon insisted that she be taken to Vidant Medical Center instead. At ECU, she’d come to know the facility in Greenville and had great respect for it. “I loved the hospital. I knew it was clean and new,” she said. Plus, she trusted the Vidant Health system. “Because I grew up in Edenton, Vidant Health has just always been in my world, and Vidant has never let me down.”
The Outer Banks Hospital agreed to get her to Greenville, but before the helicopter could take off, a storm broke out. So they arranged for her to be taken by police-escorted ambulance. Dixon describes the ambulance experience as “fabulous.” She doesn’t know what staff member attended to her during the ride, but he was incredibly calming and reassuring, which made all the difference.
Vidant Medical Center was ready for Dixon when she arrived — and the seven-hour neck surgery that lay ahead. Dixon’s father had driven to Greenville to be there, where he had all night to process the good news with the bad: His daughter was being treated by one of the very best neurosurgeons, Dr. Regis Hoppenot. His daughter also faced an 85 percent chance of being paralyzed. Finally, Dr. Hoppenot emerged with the results: “She’ll be perfectly fine.”
And indeed she was, with two plates, two rods and eight screws in her neck. Dixon’s recovery was incredibly fast. An avid runner before the accident, she was running again two months after surgery. But Dixon says the entire experience changed her emotionally, too, kick-starting her future and drive for success. She reevaluated some of the relationships in her life and went back to school to study something she really cares about: nutrition.
Dixon believes she’d be paralyzed today if it weren’t for the Vidant Health system, which includes The Outer Banks Hospital. “It’s comforting to know that Vidant connects all these hospitals,” she says. And every day that she goes out for another long run, she feels grateful. “I just look up and say, ‘thank you.’ Every single time. Because I still can’t believe it.”