DONATE NOW

This site reflects from crash to recovery as we hear from James Hinchcliffe's medical teams about what it took to get Hinch on his feet, and the impact it's had on his desire to give back.

May 18, 2015

A day in May that started like any other. A driver with a wit as quick as his car and a personality to fill every square inch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

 

For James Hinchcliffe, then 28 years old, it was supposed to be a rehearsal for the big day when he would hopefully find himself inside the winner’s circle. Instead, it became the day his life nearly ended, with a crash and a fire on the track after his car smashed into the wall as he took a practice lap in turn three.

 

Later, he would learn a mechanical failure was to blame for the near-deadly crash. What unfolded are extraordinary measures taken by the track’s medical crew to remove him from the car. The emergency crew transport. The hospital staff working tirelessly to care for him – each team synchronizing efforts to save his life. And now, months later, Hinch has the opportunity to thank them all.

 

This is James Hinchcliffe’s story. This is his race to recovery.

The Track

Drivers lap the course

200 times

during the race.

Total race distance is

500 miles.

Average speed is

226 mph

which is also the fastest

4/lap average.

Fastest lap in 2015:

38.5482 seconds

(Helio Castroneves)

Wake of Disaster

When James Hinchcliffe’s car collided with the wall going more than 200mph, most of the right side of the vehicle was completely sheared.  A broken piece of suspension rod entered Hinch’s leg, nicking a major artery. Hinch was trapped in the car and unable to move as it burst into flames. IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team raced onto the track and began working to extract him within 20 seconds, ultimately using the Jaws of Life to get him out. The Holmatro Safety Team, present at every Verizon IndyCar Series race, is a worldwide leader in track safety protocols and procedures. Hinch, whose memory of the crash is a blank, calls their quick actions to get him out of the burning wreckage and into the ambulance, “a miracle.” But even as he escaped the fire, Hinch’s race to survive was just beginning.

Crash Science

3 Gs

The amount of gravitational pull astronauts feel as they blast off in the space shuttle – in other words, three times that of the earth.

5 Gs

The force of the Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida – ranked the fourth highest G-force of any coaster in the world.

126 Gs

The force at which James Hinchcliffe’s car traveled into the wall on May 18, 2015. In a crash impact situation, 50 Gs is considered fatal to humans.

The Crash

Caring for the Masses

Geoff Billows, MD, initially thought he would be caring primarily for race car drivers in his role as medical director for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And while he and his staff treat a multitude of drivers each race season, they also offer care to thousands of fans and spectators – up to 1500 per race day. This experience is what launched Dr. Billows’ interest in mass-gathering medicine, a topic on which he has since become an expert. He credits IU Health Methodist Hospital and its strong, century-long relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway with making great strides in this complex medical field, and says that the experiences the two organizations have shared have allowed his team to learn ways to best manage motorsports and mass crowd injuries. Dr. Billows now focuses his energy on training the next generation of mass-gathering care providers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in conjunction with his work at IU Health, offering an elective course in motorsports and mass crowd care to senior emergency medicine residents.

A Rocky Ride

In immediate response to the crash, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Holmatro Safety Team – which includes firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and physicians – extracted Hinchcliffe from his vehicle and transferred him to an ambulance. Dr. Timothy Pohlman, IU Health Methodist Hospital trauma surgeon, joined the ambulance from the IU Health Emergency Medical Center located at IMS and administered life-saving treatment on the drive to IU Health Methodist Hospital.

 

IU Health Emergency Medical Center staff work with the Holmatro Safety Team at every Indianapolis Motor Speedway event. On this day, James Hinchcliffe received 14 pints of blood. He owes his life to the careful orchestrations of actions by both the Holmatro team and the IU Health Emergency Medical Center professionals.

Level I

A LIFE-SAVING DISTINCTION

Level I trauma care at IU Health Methodist Hospital is the most advanced care available in the state and can mean the difference between life and death for patients like James. The center distinguishes itself from other facilities with its continuum of care, which lasts from the moment a patient contacts IU Health LifeLine for transport services, until they finish any needed rehabilitation therapy and are released from the doctor’s care.

 

Traumatic injury isn’t only a risk for daring race car drivers – it’s actually the number one cause of death for Hoosiers under the age of 45. That’s why IU Health Methodist Hospital Level I Trauma Center is such a vital part of the healthcare network. With a dedicated trauma surgeon on the premises 24/7, the IU Health Methodist Hospital team has several decades of experience managing patients with the most severe and complex injuries.

LifeLine

When every second counts …
There’s a LifeLine to hope.

IU Health LifeLine is a critical care air and ground emergency transport for acutely ill and injured Hoosiers. These mobile intensive care units, some of the most advanced in the industry, providemost advanced emergency fleet technology and highly trained first response staff. LifeLine critical care teams save lives and give patients the best opportunities for recovery.

 

A LifeLine run begins with a 911 call. Once a helicopter or ambulance is mobilized, its mission is to provide life-saving treatment, comfort and support to patients until they arrive at the appropriate medical facility. Every patient who uses LifeLine’s services receives the same impeccable standard of care, from race car drivers to fans in the stands, to every single patient with a critical need.

Hinch’s Heroes

Timothy Pohlman, MD

Timothy Pohlman, MD, an IU Health trauma surgeon at the IU Health Emergency Medical Center at IMS, remembers May 18 vividly. He recalls the chaos when the ambulance pulled up and flung open the door so he could vault inside. Recalls the pain James was in during moments of consciousness during transport and the need for blood transfusions while in route. Recalls the life-saving efforts once they arrived in the OR.Much of the success in keeping James alive that day is attributed to Dr. Pohlman, a team of highly-trained staff and a hybrid OR allowing for synchronized imaging and operating. attributes his success that day to the IU Health Methodist state-of-the-art operating facilities as well as the excellence of the highly-trained staff. Hinch himself says the seamless care of Dr. Pohlman and other IU Methodist staff made his treatment journey as smooth as possible – one surgeon, one team operating in unison to guide him through the continuum of world-class care.

Shelley Lucas, RN

An unwavering sense of humor. That's what Shelley Lucas, RN remembers most when it comes to James's care. Even though he woke up in the ICU with severe traumatic injuries from his crash, the IU Health trauma nurse recalls that his wit was matched only by his grit and determination to get back into the cockpit and back on the track. She says his first questions were what could he do to get himself on the road to recovery, and how could he get himself well enough to be back behind the wheel? Shelley is pleased with the work her team did in getting James back to his ready-to-race condition, but she says very firmly that it's the same treatment any patient would receive. And while Shelley is adamant she'll be watching James with pride as he crosses the bricks at the 2016 Indy 500, she says she feels even more pride in the work being done by her colleagues at IU Health Methodist Hospital Level I Trauma Center.

Hinch’s Heroes

Timothy Pohlman, MD

Timothy Pohlman, MD, an IU Health trauma surgeon at the IU Health Emergency Medical Center at IMS, remembers May 18 vividly. He recalls the chaos when the ambulance pulled up and flung open the door so he could vault inside. Recalls the pain James was in during moments of consciousness during transport and the need for blood transfusions while in route. Recalls the life-saving efforts once they arrived in the OR.Much of the success in keeping James alive that day is attributed to Dr. Pohlman, a team of highly-trained staff and a hybrid OR allowing for synchronized imaging and operating. attributes his success that day to the IU Health Methodist state-of-the-art operating facilities as well as the excellence of the highly-trained staff. Hinch himself says the seamless care of Dr. Pohlman and other IU Methodist staff made his treatment journey as smooth as possible – one surgeon, one team operating in unison to guide him through the continuum of world-class care.

Shelley Lucas, RN

An unwavering sense of humor. That’s what Shelley Lucas, RN remembers most when it comes to James’s care. Even though he woke up in the ICU with severe traumatic injuries from his crash, the IU Health trauma nurse recalls that his wit was matched only by his grit and determination to get back into the cockpit and back on the track. She says his first questions were what could he do to get himself on the road to recovery, and how could he get himself well enough to be back behind the wheel? Shelley is pleased with the work her team did in getting James back to his ready-to-race condition, but she says very firmly that it’s the same treatment any patient would receive. And while Shelley is adamant she’ll be watching James with pride as he crosses the bricks at the 2016 Indy 500, she says she feels even more pride in the work being done by her colleagues at IU Health Methodist Hospital Level I Trauma Center.

Road to Recovery

It isn’t just traveled by James Hinchcliffe or others in the public eye – all patients at IU Health Methodist Hospital experience the same excellent continuum of care from the moment they find themselves in need of the highest level critical care until they complete their own personal journey.

STEPS TO RECOVERY:

The Incident

Whether it’s a traumatic injury or unexpected illness, IU Health cares for patients in the community and across the globe. IU Health 24/7 Transfer Center consults with clinicians to coordinate transfers and transport. Fixed wing, helicopter and “mobile ERs,” highly-equipped ground transport, are available 24/7 via Indiana’s most advanced critical care transport provider IU Health LifeLine. Although James was not transported by IU Health LifeLine, the team played a role in coordinating his care.

The Arrival

From the moment patients are brought to IU Health Level I Trauma Center, they are in expert hands. Fewer than 10 percent of U.S. hospitals have a trauma center. Fortunately, only a few patients have injuries severe enough to require these specialized services. But when they do, it’s comforting to know IU Health has Indiana’s largest Level I Trauma Center.

The Treatment

As a Level I Trauma Center, patients have access to:
•  A dedicated trauma surgeon on duty in the trauma center 24 hours a day
•  Neurosurgical and orthopedic surgeons attending in-house 24 hours a day
•  Critical care attending in-house 24 hours a day
•  A full spectrum of surgical specialists—orthopedic, neurosurgery, cardiovascular, thoracic, hand, microvascular, plastic, obstetric and gynecologic, ophthalmology, otolaryngology and urology—on call 24 hours a day

The Release

Patients receive high-quality care even after their loved one is stable. Rehabilitation experts help patients regain their ability to perform daily tasks such as walking, speaking and taking a shower. Chaplains and social workers care for family’s emotional, spiritual and psychosocial well-being. This comprehensive approach gives you access to everything you need before leaving the hospital.

The Long Drive

The Mayor, Restored

As the leader of his own online city of fans and followers, “Hinchtown,” James Hinchcliffe has quickly gotten back to business, and back on the track. He has spent two months recovering from nearly fatal injuries, with some time “couch surfing” interacting with fans and well-wishers via social media. With a green light from doctors, Hinch is back in training, building his strength bit by bit. And just this past September, the rubber met the road beneath him, and he took the wheel once again. His smile – if even only ignited by a practice race – tells the story of a race car driver doing the very thing he loves: racing.

 

Hinch continues to express his gratitude to his physicians and caretakers in the minutes and months after his accident, but he still can’t say enough good things about the care he received from IU Health Methodist Hospital. He jokes about faking an illness to have an excuse to visit the people he now knows saved his life. And while no one at IU Health Methodist Hospital would recommend such drastic measures, they are all looking forward to seeing him again – this time, speeding victoriously across the finish line – a winner, a survivor.

Back in Action