From the moment she arrived in the JPS Health Network trauma bay with a shattered pelvis and a badly broken ankle, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Eric Barcak was determined not to let those injuries shatter the dreams of a young professional dancer.
Hannah Fozkos, 24 of Granbury, was visiting her family from California in June 2020. She had secured a spot on the Los Angeles Clippers Spirit dance team and was waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented fans and in-house entertainers from attending NBA games. She decided to take a motorcycle ride with her father, Robert, a lieutenant with the Crowley Fire Department. The Harley-Davidson on which they were riding collided with a Ford F-250 pick-up that cut across their path, tragically claiming the life of Hannah’s dad while leaving her seriously injured.
“I know the driver that hit us didn’t see us, that it was an accident, Fozkos said. “But he already took so much away from me. I was determined not to let that accident take any more. I couldn’t let it ruin the rest of my life.”
Hannah said she initially didn’t realize how badly injured she was. When she arrived at JPS, her pelvis was broken in six different places and her ankle broken in three. Additionally, she had injuries to her shoulder blade, knee, and foot.
“Honestly, I don’t think I really realized how bad things were until months later,” Fozkos said. “I think, because they took such good care of me, I thought that this was all sort of routine and I was just going to be ok. As time has passed, I’ve realized that wow, I’ve really overcome a lot of stuff.”
Less than a year later, just in time for NBA games to start opening back up for fans, Hannah has made a remarkable recovery, rehabbing for a return to her dancing career. Hannah plans on being on the floor with the other members of her team when the Clippers open the Staples Center In Los Angeles back up to fans. Other teams have already started to welcome back fans. There's talk that California leaders could allow people to attend games as soon as May.
Barcak couldn’t be more excited for Fozkos.
“We’re really happy about the way the surgeries and recovery went,” Barcak said. “There was a lot of trauma when she came in. It takes three to six months for the pelvis to heal from that sort of injury. She went from dancing to completely unable to bear weight on both legs for eight weeks. From pretty active, to nothing. Now, she has the green light to do whatever she wants.”
Remarkably, just three months after her tragic crash, Hannah memorialized her father by taking his place in a 9/11 stair climbing fundraiser with his colleagues at the Crowley Fire Department.
"My dad signed up before our accident," Fozkos said. "Since he couldn't be there, I wanted to fill his spot for him. It was only a few days after I was cleared to walk again. It was such a turning point for me to be able to do that for him."
How did Hannah make such a complete and quick recovery? Barcak said the Level I Trauma Center at JPS has trauma surgeons trained in orthopaedics at the ready when patients come through the door. That means injuries like Fozkos suffered are identified and repaired immediately after the patient arrives at the hospital.
Barcak said the repairs to the pelvis were made with X-Ray guidance which allowed him to see past bleeding to avoid blood vessels and nerves as he placed screws, pins and plates to reconnect the broken pieces of bone. While that sounds painful, Barcak said it’s actually a great relief for anyone who has had to endure a broken pelvis.
“We’re able to go in through a small incision that’s similar to a C-Section to do the things we need to do,” Barcak said. “People certainly feel a whole lot better when they’re fixed. Anyone who has had a broken pelvis knows that if you move in almost any way from rolling over to even just a cough can be excruciatingly painful. Once things are back in position, it’s a much better situation for the patient.”
Hannah’s dance career not only has been saved by her recovery, Barcak said her recovery was aided by the patient’s dance career.
“She definitely has a healthy lifestyle,” Barcak said of Fozkos. “A lot of the credit goes to her. She has been really dedicated to getting back to where she was, and we’re happy to be able to help her.”
For months, Hannah’s goal has been to get back to doing what she loves. But as she gets ready to return to her team, her thoughts have moved past her own dance career to her second calling, becoming a physical therapist so she can help others as she was helped.
“I didn’t want my dance career to end this way,” Fozkos said. “How long will this last? I don’t know. But I would like to do it for a while and then go out on my own terms. It was always my plan to become a physical therapist when I was done dancing. I do that part time now, and, with what’s happened to me, it’s so rewarding to be able to help people get back to doing the things they want to do after an injury or surgery.”
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers.