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This War Hero Uses His Trauma Skills to Treat Civilians at Home

June 19, 2014
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This War Hero Uses His Trauma Skills to Treat Civilians at Home
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A doctor's medical career in the military advances patient survival rates in the United States.

If you’ve spent most of your life as a doctor in the armed forces, it goes without saying that you know a thing or two about saving lives.

That’s certainly the case with Dr. Peter Rhee. After completing his training, Rhee was one of seven trauma surgeons in the U.S. Navy. After spending more than 25 years in the trenches, Rhee is retired from service and is using his skills at home to save lives.

As the chief of trauma and emergency surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center (UAMC), Rhee is helping to improve survival rates and patient care.

He says that in general, a patient’s chance of surviving a gunshot wound to the brain is about 10 percent, but at his institution, it’s astonishingly higher: Around 46 percent.

“That’s because our surgeons and our neurosurgeons have worked together to be very aggressive on who we operate on…” he told ABC News. “The war that we had in Iraq shows us that when we operate more often on these people shot in the brain the survival rate is higher.”

One of his patients, former Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords is living proof of these statistics. After Giffords and 18 others were shot one Saturday morning in 2011 outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, Rhee oversaw her care, as well as treating the others wounded in the incident.

Rhee has written a new memoir, Trauma Red: The Making of a Surgeon in War and in America’s Cities, and has appeared in a number of television news specials like Nightline, but he’s spent his career creating special programs throughout his career to educate doctors on life-threatening injuries.

After the 9/11 attacks, Rhee worked on a program to educate military doctors who have never seen a gun shot wound about the types of injuries they might encounter in war zone areas — especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rhee’s use of his military training to save lives here at home is innovative, noteworthy, and most importantly, reinventing medicine and patient care for Americans. And as more horrific, life-threatening incidents become more common in the United States, doctors are faced with more challenges to save patients. If more military doctors trained in trauma-related surgeries and life-threatening emergencies share their expertise, perhaps even more lives could be saved.

MORE: Here’s What You Probably Didn’t Know About PTSD

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