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How the Vietnam War Saved My Life  


by Scott Sechser (April 16, 2021)    


#Innovation #Healthtech #Gratitude

Shock Trauma Helicopter.jpg

It was the summer of 1983, and the Police, Men at Work, and Duran Duran were playing on the radio. I was 12 years old and about to start the seventh grade. I had made the decision not to return to my dad’s home in South Dakota, but instead live with my mom in Maryland and go to a new school. A few days before school started my mom took my brother and me to the mall for new clothes.


About a mile from the mall is where my life changed forever.

Our car was violently struck by an 18-wheeler. The mammoth truck had run a red light, crashing broadside into our car. It crushed and flipped our vehicle like a toy, critically injuring myself and my older brother. My mom was not as lucky; she didn’t survive the initial impact.

I woke sometime later in the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland hospital in Baltimore. My brother and I had been “medevaced” by helicopter directly to this world-class trauma center. We were surrounded by doctors and nurses working on our wounds in a controlled chaos. They were all wearing their trademark pink scrubs, the uniform of these “special forces” of the medical world.


The predecessor of the University of Maryland’s trauma center opened in 1960s, and was the first of its kind. It was the brainchild of R Adams Cowley, MD, who is known as the “father of trauma medicine.”

After treating the wounded in World War II and working for years studying traumatic injury, Dr. Cowley came to the conclusion that treating critically injured patients during that first hour was crucial to survival, referring to this time as the “Golden Hour.”  He determined this first hour was the difference between life and death.

But how does the Vietnam War play a role in my survival?


At the time that Dr. Cowley’s trauma center was becoming fully functional in Baltimore, the Vietnam War was coming to a close. And it was during the Vietnam War that the use of helicopters for medical evacuations was perfected. Dr. Cowley recognized the value of helicopters, and they quickly became an integral component of the new trauma unit. This innovation, combined with top notch teams of trauma doctors and nurses, soon made the center a huge success. And this success has carried on to this day as the center remains a world leader.


As for me, my severe injuries in 1983 kept me in the hospital for months, followed by even more time spent at home recovering. I ultimately did fully recover, and 38 years later, I am married and have three children of my own.


Dr. Cowley passed away in 1991, but his innovations continue to save lives by helping people like me get through that critical “Golden Hour,” and survive traumatic, life-threatening injuries.


This past year has reminded me just how grateful I am to Dr. Cowley and the ingenuity and humanity of medicine. I’m thankful to all those in the medical community, who are on the front lines, saving lives and changing lives every day. To the doctors, nurses, and aides who are caring so tirelessly for those in need, and to the researchers and innovators who are finding vaccines and treatments in record time  -- I say ‘thank you’ for what you do.

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