Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Their final act of service: Autopsies of fallen soldiers

Colonel Howard Harcke, a U.S. Army pathologist, noticed something peculiar in late 2005. The emergency treatment for a soldier's collapsed lung involves inserting a needle and tube into the chest cavity to relieve pressure and allow the lung to reinflate. But in one case, Colonel Harcke could see from a scan of an autopsied soldier that the tube had been too short to reach the chest cavity. Then he saw another case, and another, and half a dozen more. A collapsed lung can be life-threatening, so proper treatment is essential.

He pulled 100 CT scans of autopsied soldiers from the archives and calculated the average thickness of the chest wall in the American troops. He found that the standard tubing, five centimeters long, was too short for half the soldiers. If the tube were eight centimeters long, it would have been long enough for 99% of them.

The findings were presented to the Army Surgeon General, who ordered in August 2006 that the kits given to combat medics should be changed to include only the longer tubing. This allows for more effective emergency treatment of collapsed lungs.

Advice: Autopsies can teach doctors how to change medical practice to save people's lives. These fallen soldiers had a final act of service to others.

Read another story about the life-saving use of autopsies.

Thanks to Denise Grady for the source article in yesterday's New York Times.

1 comment:

fluoxetine said...

I'll take this story as evidence that somewhere in the military chain of command, someone actually cares about the well-being of the ground troops. A lot of the time, there doesn't seem to be much more than token concern.