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Shock Trauma Team Returns From Earthquake Relief Work in China

Thursday, June 19, 2008

 Dr. Thomas Scalea led a team from Shock Trauma to China, where they assisted in treating earthquake victims.

Trip Followed Request from the Chinese Government

A team of trauma specialists from the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center has returned from China after 10 days of helping to treat victims of the devastating earthquake that occurred on May 12.

The team of physicians and nurses was the first officially invited United States medical team to assist the Chinese following the earthquake. The Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., Zhou Wenzhong, had invited the team.

With a primary mission as consultants, the team worked with doctors at West China Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, located about 50 miles from the epicenter of the quake. It is considered one of China's leading facilities for trauma care.

The hospital has been serving many of the most critically injured patients. At the hospital, the U.S. team gave lectures on treating traumatic injuries as well as helping to treat patients.

"It was an opportunity each of us will remember for the rest of our lives." said Thomas M. Scalea, MD, physician in chief of Shock Trauma and professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who led the team.

The University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center is a world leader in brain and spinal cord trauma and crush injuries. In addition to Scalea, the team members included Thomas Grissom, MD, a specialist in critical care and anesthesiology; Geoffrey Sheinfeld, MD, a specialist in critical care and nephrology; Karen Karash, RN, a neurotrauma critical care nurse; and Peter Hu, chief technologist responsible for telemedicine consultations conducted during the trip.

Sheinfeld said that the team achieved three goals for their consulting trip: to build relationships that last, to learn how the Chinese handle disasters, and to do some training on techniques they routinely apply at Shock Trauma nearly 7,700 times a year. "We saw similar injury cases, like those we have here, but on a much greater scale."

The magnitude-7.9 quake killed nearly 70,000 in Central China. The Chengdu hospital treated 3,000 patients in the first three weeks after the earthquake, Scalea said.

He said when the team arrived, they found "a group of unbelievably committed doctors and nurses who had been slugging it out for a month without a rest every day in the ICU or in the operating room or throughout the hospital." He continued, "I think each of us found there were far more similarities with Shock Trauma in Baltimore than differences though."

The team fit in quickly, said Scalea. "I was absolutely shocked that at the end of day one, we felt that we were part of the team. What was fantastic was this was synergistic in a way you don't often see. After a day the cooperation was seamless. It felt just like being home, just going to work."

He said the team was especially impressed with how China as a whole had responded to the disaster, with doctors flying in by helicopters, providing their own food and clothing for a period of time, then being replaced by others in rapid order. "I don't care how many drills you do, you're not prepared fully to go live until you go live."

The hospital itself, said Scalea, had some damaged windows and chunks of plaster missing from walls. There was also concern during the trip that more of the earthen dams in the region might break from additional rains.

As the team was leaving Baltimore June 6, E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, dean of the School of Medicine, said that one of several missions of the School is community outreach. "And we consider the community as the world." Reece said the School is currently working in 23 difference countries worldwide. "We are honored that the Chinese actually saw fit to invite us. I have no doubt our time will be effective."

Scalea said on his June 18 return, "We believe we have grown from a local to a national to an international resource." He said the current mission of Shock Trauma includes "training the next generation and the ability to go anywhere in the world."

Since 2004, Shock Trauma has been building relationships with members of the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China and several trauma hospitals in China. These include Shanghai East Hospital, People's Hospital and Peking Union Hospital. Shock Trauma co-hosted an international conference in Shanghai with the Chinese Emergency Medicine & Trauma Associations in 2007 that brought together experts to discuss advanced trauma and critical care.

Shock Trauma, located at the University of Maryland Medical Center, cares for about 7,700 critically injured people each year and, in partnership with the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Program in Trauma, serves as the core of the state's EMS/trauma system.

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