A lifelong New York Jets fan and Stony Brook University Hospital surgeon had the chance to take the field with the team.
The Suffolk County Police Department showed its gratitude to SBU Hospital Chief Trauma Surgeon Dr. James Vosswinkel at a surprise press conference at the hospital Nov. 29, with a little help from the Jets.
Vosswinkel, a Jets fan who saved the lives of two SCPD officers critically injured in the line of duty, said he was “completely overwhelmed” to learn that he and 20 members of his staff were to be honored at the Jets’ Annual First Responder Appreciation Night at Metlife Stadium before the game Monday, Dec. 5.
“I don’t think either one of us would be standing here today as full capacity police officers if it wasn’t for the doctor and his care.”
— Nicholas Guerrero
SCPD Commissioner Tim Sini and Military & First Responder Liaison for the team, Steve Castleton, along with members of the police department and staff from the hospital, were present to announce the news to the trauma surgeon.
Alongside members of police and fire departments from across the tri-state area including the SCPD, NYPD and FDNY, Vosswinkel served as honorary team captain and helped with the coin toss before the Jets squared off against the Indianapolis Colts on “Monday Night Football.” Unfortunately the Jets were defeated by a 41-10 final score.
Vosswinkel said the honor is as much about the efforts of the hospital as it is about him.
“I may be the guy that’s most visible right now, but this is not about me,” Vosswinkel said. “This is about Stony Brook. Stony Brook cares. It excels in so many areas. It’s a true team here that truly cares about their patients. They put the extra time in; we go out to the community to try to prevent trauma. Everybody deserves credit here. We’re very happy when our patients do well.”
L. Reuven Pasternak, chief executive officer at the hospital, said at the press conference trauma is the leading cause of death for all Americans before age 45 and, in terms of trauma care, every second counts.
Vosswinkel leads the hospital’s trauma program, which is the only Regional Level 1 trauma center for Suffolk County, according to the New York State Department of Health. The center has been recognized as the top-ranked center in the care of pedestrian trauma and has some of the highest survival rates anywhere in the nation and state.
The two SCPD officers are on their feet again thanks to the emergency surgery done by Vosswinkel. Mark Collins and Nicholas Guerrero made sure their surgeon was invited to the event as they wanted to do something special as a thanks for giving them a second chance at life.
“I don’t think either one of us would be standing here today as full capacity police officers if it wasn’t for the doctor and his care,” Guerrero said.
Collins said he and Guerrero are thankful for each day they wake up.
Guerrero, a four-year veteran of the SCPD, was under Vosswinkel’s care for weeks in a medically induced coma after suffering a critical head injury when a hit-and-run driver in Huntington struck him in September 2014.
According to Vosswinkel at the time of the officer’s discharge from the hospital, Guerrero had “only a one in three chances of surviving.” Collins, a member of SCPD’s gang unit and a 12-year veteran, was rushed to the hospital in March 2015 after he was shot in the neck and hip while pursuing a suspect in Huntington. He was discharged only four days after the shooting occurred.
If it wasn’t for the immediate action of Vosswinkel and his team, the injuries could have been fatal.
According to Sini, the partnership between the SCPD and SBU Hospital is integral to the law enforcement mission. He said the department relies on the hospital in the wake of unfortunate circumstances, and many officers wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for “the man sitting to my left,” referring to Vosswinkel.
“We call him Voss and he’s part of our family,” Sini said. “You’ve saved families from extreme tragedy; you’ve saved this department from extreme tragedy; and you’ve allowed two officers to continue to serve the department. We can’t thank you enough for that. What we can do is do our best to express our gratitude. But from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of the SCPD and on behalf of Suffolk County, thank you very much.”
Castleton was introduced to make the big announcement, which Sini referred to as a small token of appreciation.
Castleton said when the announcement was being planned, he heard some “crazy” stories about Vosswinkel, like he often wears a Jets shirt under his scrubs and even repainted his office in the team’s colors. He spoke on behalf of the Jets organization and said it was extremely important to recognize medical staff.
“A lot of people forget that doctors and nurses are first responders … it’s not just policemen, EMTs, and paramedics,” Castleton said.
According to Castleton, the Jets players were insistent that members of the surgeon’s staff join them in running out of the stadium tunnel before the start of the game.