Friday, January 21, 2011

In the Wake of Tragedy, Human and Medical Triumph

Since January 8th, I’ve been glued to the internet and 24/7 cable news, immersed in the tragic events that took place in Tucson and the chilling tales of loss that have surfaced in the aftermath. I try to imagine the horrific scene. The feelings of anger and hatred toward the killer are only overcome by those of deep sorrow for the victims and their families. As we’ve watched the events unfold, and try to make sense of this moment of darkness, I’m struck by the contrasting stories of hope and triumph that have emerged….and the medical miracles that we’re witnessing.

In a story that has defied medical odds, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ condition was improved from critical to serious this week, with announced plans to move her to a Houston rehab facility today. Though it’s important to express our optimism with caution, one can’t help but acknowledge just how unlikely her recovery seemed in the immediate wake of the shooting that left a wake of 19 victims, six of whom died. Suffering a gunshot wound to the head, Giffords was rushed to the University of Arizona medical center facing the most dire circumstances imaginable: Skull fractures, dead brain tissue that had to be removed, increasing pressure from swelling that could further damage her brain, and fractures in her eye sockets.

But in the midst of the tragedy, great heroism has been on display. We’ve seen the faith of the victims’ families, the brave response of the rescue workers, and ordinary bystanders reacting in such extraordinarily compassionate ways. We’ve all been in awe of the character that’s been revealed, reflecting what is best in the human spirit. But as a member of the healthcare industry, I’ve been particularly inspired by the courage and leadership of the medical professionals who have cared for these victims.

In reading the heroic story of the Dr. Randall Friese, the trauma surgeon that first treated both Giffords and nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, gives us a glimpse of the courage required in split-second trauma decisions. Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, and Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma director, have given the world a rare view of the complexity and razor-thin precision that severe head trauma presents. Beyond exceptional medical skill, their ability to communicate with the public, to help us understand the intricacies of these procedures and the physical and psychological impacts, has been uplifting, truly honest, and candid. Few in our society posses all of these gifts.

Every day as we watch, there have been remarkable steps forward: the lifting of fingers, the opening of her eyes, a gentle rub of her husband’s back, and yesterday actually playing with an iPad. There’s still a long, hard road ahead, but this story illustrates the amazing survival and recuperative strength of the human will, and physical power of the loving bond between husband and wife. But let’s not forget the heroes at work every day in the field of medicine.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims, their families, and the medical professionals who are caring for them.

~ Alex Price

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