Look to Shock Trauma’s success

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / May 15, 2013

After a response team dragged unconscious firefighter Gene Kirchner from an intense three-alarm house fire on Hanover Road in the early hours of April 24, he wound up in the only place equipped to deal with his life-threatening injuries, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Unfortunately, even the renowned doctors at Shock Trauma could not save Kirchner, an eight-year veteran of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company.

He died last Thursday, only the second firefighter to die in the line of duty in the 100 years of the RVFC.

It is not often that Shock Trauma loses its battle to preserve life. Fully 96 percent of those admitted survive.

Trauma doctors there believe that if badly injured patients arrive at Shock Trauma within that “golden hour” following an accident they can be saved.

Using unconventional methods such as simultaneously treating multiple aspects of a patient’s critical injuries immediately upon arrival, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center has revolutionized emergency medicine.

But sometimes there is little doctors can do to help someone as critically injured as Gene Kirchner.

Ironically when the center’s staff and guests gathered for their annual gala recently, the evening centered on another fatality that had been turned into a remarkable “gift of life.”

Physician-in-chief Dr. Tom Scalia described how he and his team fought to revive a pedestrian who had been struck by a car, 21-year-old Joshua Aversano of White Hall. Sadly, Joshua’s brain injury was too severe.

At that point Joshua’s family made the decision to contribute Joshua’s body parts to help others. What followed was a true miracle.

Over a three-day period, six people were given life-saving organs, Joshua’s heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and lung. It was a mighty tribute to Joshua and his family, and to the enormous skills of the Shock Trauma team at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

But the truly amazing part of the story was yet to come: using Joshua’s facial bones, skin, tongue, teeth and underlying muscle and tissue to perform the world’s most extensive full-face transplant.

Over 150 doctors, nurses and other professionals participated in this 36-hour marathon. The Virginia patient, who had lived as a recluse since a 1997 gun accident shattered his face, received a new lease on life.

When 37-year-old Richard Norris walked on stage, he was a man reborn with nary a wrinkle.

An incredible amount of research preceded the surgery, much of it funded by the Office of Naval Research. The hope is that similar facial transplants will aid servicemen maimed by explosives.

Each year, 8,600 gravely injured people arrive at Shock Trauma, most of them via State Police Medevac helicopter, part of Maryland’s integrated emergency medical network.

It is a remarkable organization, heavily supported by taxpayer dollars. They did their best to save Gene Kirchner. He would have been the first to recognize their heroic efforts.

Barry Rascovar of Reisterstown is a writer and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.