Published: Jun 12, 2014 9:44 PM EDT

The Lee Memorial Hospital Trauma Center in Fort Myers is turning 20 years old.  In that time, it has treated more than 35-thousand patients for all variety of injuries, saving the lives of a good number of those people.

People like Mark Otto will be forever grateful that the center exists.  He fell off the roof of his home in Lehigh Acres three years ago, and suffered many injuries - including brain trauma, a broken neck and broken back, and a crushed right arm.  An ambulance rushed him to the trauma center, and doctors and specialists stabilized him.  He was in a coma for 30 days, but then recovered.

"They saved my life, I believe, and they saved the quality of my life so that I could have a complete recovery," Otto tells WINK News.

Dr. Ernst Vieux, Jr., director of trauma services, tells WINK:  "This is a great anniversary.  We have made a difference in the lives of so many people.  We often run a deficit in our budget, but the people here care more about patients than the numbers.  If they had to go by just the numbers, we would not be here."

The center at times has had deficits in the millions of dollars per year.  Recently, through efficiences, those have been sharply reduced to hundreds of thousands of dollars loss, or even less.   In 2002, the hospital asked voters for a half-penny sales tax increase to pay for the center and other needs.  Voters resoundingly said, no.

Dr. Vieux says the trauma center is much more than an upgraded emergency room.  

"The key is, I can call a specialist in any field and have them here in 30 minutes, any time of the day,  365 days a year.   I can get a neuro-surgeon here, a cardiologist, a pediatrician, a gynecologist, whatever I need, I can get the specialist here to make a difference in the life of the patient, or to save the life," says Dr. Vieux. 

The Lee Trauma Center is the only one on the gulf coast of the state, between Tampa and Miami.   It  was authorized by the state to begin operation in 1994.