Panamerican Trauma Society 25th Congress Celebration Gala

Nov. 16, 2012
Hotel Intercontinental, Medellin, Colombia

Buenas noches. I am privileged to be with you all tonight for a grand event in a beautiful city. I had the chance to see some of Medellin this afternoon. My colleagues and I met with health care leaders in academia and government, toured a renowned university, and even took a thrilling ride on the Metro Cable. Medellin is a breathtaking, vibrant place.

I am honored to be the first president of the SPT’s host university afforded the opportunity to address the congress. The Panamerican Trauma Society is extraordinary. We are proud to host it at Virginia Commonwealth University and to continue the great work of our friends at the University of Pittsburgh.

It is special that all of the former presidents of the SPT are here. Gracias por subir la barra para esta gran organización. Y, Dr. Puyana, gracias por seguir subiendo la barra todos los días.

I humbly congratulate you on convening the 25th congress. For a generation, you have made an astonishing difference in our world, especially for people who live farthest away from modern health care resources, who are not educated about preventive care and who need us the most. You are remarkable professionals — but more than that, you are true heroes.

My father was also a surgeon, and I share his deep commitment to human health. In fact, we made it a stated focus in Virginia Commonwealth University’s strategic plan.

There are many ways we do this. It begins, of course, with the lifesaving research and treatment happening every day in our academic medical center. No one does more to advance our mission at VCU — nor the mission of the SPT — than three of my colleagues who are here tonight, and whom you know well: Rao Ivatury, Mike Aboutanos and Jim Neifeld. The SPT would not have come to VCU if not for these three men, and we are grateful. At VCU, we expect our faculty to be leaders in their disciplines — and I am so proud that my colleagues here tonight are also leaders in the world.

VCU is an amazing place with amazing people. We are both Virginia’s No. 1-rated hospital and its safety-net hospital — so we uniquely understand the critical importance and the significant challenges in providing world-class health care to diverse populations.

That is our focus at VCU Medical Center. And for 25 years, it is has been your focus too.

For both of us, that focus never wavers. Too many people need our help. Too many problems need our attention. Too many places need our support. Indeed, after all these years, we have arrived only at the beginning. So as we celebrate together tonight, we remember the work that is still to be done and the many human beings who need us.

Trauma is one of our world’s most significant public health crises. It affects all people in all nations. It devastates economies. It destroys lives.

And, disproportionately, all of you in the SPT are on the front lines. The World Health Organization says that unintentional trauma — such as traffic-related injuries, drownings, falls, poisonings — accounts for about 70 percent of all injury-related deaths in our world. An astonishing 90 percent of these tragedies occur in nations like those you serve. And in these nations, traumatic injury is the leading cause of death and disability among people age 5 to 45.

Three out of four people living in these nations will die before their 70th birthday; about twice as many as in the rest of the world. Further, patients with serious but treatable injuries are six times more likely to die in nations where you work than elsewhere.

There are many reasons why, and you know them:

  • Inequitable access to health care
  • Lack of pre-hospital emergency services
  • Little public education on trauma prevention
  • Poor roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure that increase the likelihood of traffic-related injuries and make getting to a doctor difficult

These are serious issues with no easy answers. But they are not insurmountable when we work together as partners who share the same fundamental commitment to brighter futures for our citizens. To win the war against trauma in every nation, and to reverse the disturbing trends I have just described, higher education and health care must absolutely be indispensable and inseparable.

Our researchers in the laboratory must work with doctors on the ground to develop treatments and expand the commitment to finding solutions that are effective against traumatic injuries and accessible to the people who need them. Students must work with volunteers to ensure that — in the next generation — traumatic injuries are not only more survivable, they are more preventable. Medical education and medical professionals in every corner of the Americas must come together to create the technologies, databases, curricula and public policy that will save lives, and the common understandings that can enrich them.

We will treat traumatic injuries when they occur — as part of our world’s emergency medical response system, we have all committed to doing so. But the greatest impact we can make is using what we know about trauma to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

I had breakfast this morning with Tom Scalea, who is at the University of Maryland and is one of our world’s most respected leaders in trauma care. I am so proud that he is also a VCU alumnus. Tom is the perfect example of my point: He teaches his students not only how to care for the traumatically injured, but how to really sense what they need to live better, more complete lives. It takes that kind of leadership to help the millions and millions of people who need us.

This aligns with the greatest strength of our universities, and that is our capacity to solve a problem by looking at it from all sides and applying widely accepted research methodologies to produce viable solutions.

The impact of trauma on our world is profound. The influence of our partnership can be even greater. And this is beginning to happen.

A few years ago, a team of my colleagues from VCU joined a group of Ecuadorian leaders on a mission to prevent and manage traumatic injuries that occurred in remote Amazon provinces.

What our team found was a dedicated and talented medical community that lacked basic infrastructure and the support it needed to care for the victims of rising violence and traffic-related injuries that came with the rapid development and urbanization in the region. In some places, a basic uniform definition of “trauma” was lacking. In others, a rudimentary infrastructure was noted: It took victims eight to 12 hours to reach the nearest hospital. A seriously injured person may have had to walk six hours to get to the nearest road.

When patients arrived at rural hospitals, there were no standards for how doctors should treat them. These differences came from a lack of specialized knowledge, the absence of medical personnel and equipment, and most importantly from a lack of infrastructure and system development for trauma care in the region.

To help the doctors in Ecuador, my VCU colleagues — along with their local Ecuadorian partners — wrote curricula and live-patient scenarios, and taught clinicians lifesaving skills that focused on stabilizing patients and preparing them for transport.

This great partnership also resulted in a new data system that could follow patients from the remote location where they were injured to the place where they received initial treatment, to subsequent referral centers that may be hundreds of miles away. For the first time, doctors in the Amazon jungles could not only treat patients, they could track them and monitor their progress.

Because of this partnership, doctors in these remote locations now have trauma registries and referral systems shared by hospitals in three provinces, a volunteer paramedical system and an aerial paramedical system, and a foundation for injury-prevention projects and research that reaches out to both rural and urban areas.

There is no doubt that this partnership has saved lives. The blueprints are drawn. Now, we must build more bridges.

Trauma centers exist to heal the body, to make an injured person well. Universities do the same thing for societies. It makes sense — for both of us, and for the people we serve — that we solve one of our planet’s biggest problems together.

We must find cures in the lab, and implement them in the field. We must educate a new generation in our classrooms, and empower a new change in our world. We must build on what we can do together to accomplish what we cannot do alone.

I warmly congratulate you for your important work in this wonderful society. I share your pride in its accomplishments. Thank you for being our strongest partners in solving the problems that have devastated human beings for centuries. Thank you for the lifesaving work you do every day. Thank you for joining us in the commitment not only for more tomorrows, but for better tomorrows.

Gracias por unirse a nuestros esfuerzos para que el futuro ? sea un mejor futuro.

Thank you. Gracias. Muchas gracias.