Of the thousands of families that come to the trauma center at Westchester Medical Center each year, only about half expected to be there. The other half arrive following a medical emergency, like Ben and Debbie Lieberman of Chappaqua, whose son, Evan, was a passenger in a car that crashed in 2011.
“The way that day began was a normal day,” Ben Lieberman recalled. “We had no intention of being here. People are catapulted into this place, and they don’t know what to do.”
The new Evan Lieberman Friends and Family Lounge, unveiled on Oct. 15 at the hospital in front of a large group of friends and family, was designed to accommodate and support families with loved ones in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit. The new lounge boasts more than 2,400 square feet of space and includes an expanded waiting area with comfortable seating. The area also has showers, lockers, nutrition stations and overnight accommodations for guests.
The Liebermans spent a month in the hospital trauma intensive care unit with Evan, 19 after he initially survived injuries sustained when he was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed because the driver was distracted. Evan eventually succumbed to his injuries.
Ben Lieberman recalled the family sat wherever they could find room in the hospital wing, including an abandoned reception area.
“Over the next few days people brought air mattresses and we practically felt like we were in Trump Towers because we had air mattresses,” he said. “There was a loud family talking outside the room while we tried to sleep, so we shut the door. The door got stuck and they thought we were locking them out and they wanted to argue, as if we didn’t have other things to worry about.”
Lieberman also said there was little privacy for patients and families, with serious conversations often taking place in front of total strangers.
“So not only was there a lack of privacy, but there is also a certain dignity that there should be while you are here,” Lieberman said.
Because of their son’s age, they were able to use the Ronald McDonald House adjacent to the hospital, but most patients are over 21 and their families don’t have that option.
Over the past few years, Evan’s friends and family have taken part in fundraisers to help raise money for the center, including dinners, golf outings, dodgeball events and raffles.
“That’s how Evan’s team was created,” Lieberman said. “We were hesitant at first, because we didn’t want to be in everyone’s pocket every time they turned around, but truth be told, we did like that there were events in Evan’s name.”
Evan’s Team raised $500,000, mostly through small donations.
“We called it Evan’s Team, but it was team in a lot more than a name, to have that many donations and that many participants,” Lieberman said.
Westchester Medical Center President Mike Israel thanked the Liebermans and those who supported them for taking a difficult situation and turning it positive.
“The support and the comfort in really trying times that this will give families of loved ones and friends of our patients…this will have a profound impact on them and on the medical center,” he said.
The Liebermans have also worked to remember their son by highlighting the problem of distracted driving. The accident occurred in Orange County just off the Bear Mountain Bridge with Evan a backseat passenger while driving with friends to a summer job at Woodbury Commons. Lieberman said the family learned through phone records obtained via court subpoenas that the driver was texting.
The couple has created Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCS) to warn motorists of the dangers of distracted driving and to encourage new legislation and the enforcement of traffic safety laws. The organization’s website is www.dorcs.org.
“That was done by design,” Lieberman said. “We want to keep the dorks off the road. So we’re trying to approach it like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The social stigma like that against drunk driving doesn’t exist. When you see somebody with a phone in their hand, you’re not as outraged as if you saw someone drinking a beer or swigging a Jack Daniels.”
In order to end distracted driving fatalities, there has to be a culture change, the Liebermans said.
“If you’re not buckled up and you get into a car collision, you can get hurt,” said Debbie Lieberman. “But if you are texting, you can actually hurt other people. So you have to think a little further than just yourself.”
More information on the annual fundraising events can be found at www.evansteamny.com.