My Passion: Saving the Lives of Injured Children by Dr. Martin Eichelberger

Marty_Eichelberger_MG_0233Injury is the leading cause of death in America for children. Most people do not realize this, primarily because injuries are really not addressed as a disease category that people recognize. Children are critically injured in so many ways: a child run over by an automobile, a youngster that falls out of a building, another who unfortunately drowns, maybe a child who steps on a land mine.

Many of these injuries are similar even though the way they are injured may be different. The child’s body is impacted by an external force. Surgery may allow us to reverse some of the immediate damage so that we can save the child’s life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can reverse some of the disabilities that these children sustain.

This “disease” claiming the lives of nearly 10,000 children a year is called injury and it’s best thought of as a combination of three things: prevention, acute or emergency care and rehabilitation.

Overall, we’ve made tremendous strides in the past few decades. But serious injuries are still the number one killer of kids in America – more than all other causes combined – so we still have a long way to go. As a community we have to make sure that we anticipate what happens to our kids, and if they do have a severe injury that there is a place where they can at least undergo resuscitation and get transferred. If we don’t have the capacity to quickly transfer injured kids in rural areas in America, we have to make sure we are able to keep them in place and have them survive until the necessary transport to a treatment center is available.

We’re fortunate when we’re close to hospitals that have a Level I trauma center designation, but the reality is most people don’t have access to that type of quality care. The argument shouldn’t be that we’re a better Level I trauma center than you are. We should instead focus on making sure all kids around the country are getting quality care that’s going to save their life and keep them from debilitating disabilities. That means we’ve got to reach out into the community and make sure our colleagues and general surgeons at the small hospitals in America can take care of injured kids, and make sure that they do the right things from the beginning because what you do at the beginning makes a difference in the end.

Organizations like the Childress Institute are trying to communicate to the world that pediatric trauma is a serious issue, that there are solutions to this issue, and that these solutions can save lives. When prevention fails, as it does 175,000 times each year based on the number of injured children who are hospitalized, we now have an injured child on our hands and we need to figure out ways to provide them better care.

In my opinion, the vaccine for injuries is really communications – communicating the problem, creating coalitions of people to work together on solutions, making laws, gaining support, educating the public about the reasons these 10,000 children are dying each year. That will save lives. That will make the big difference.

Dr. Martin Eichelberger, Professor of Surgery and of Pediatrics, George Washington University and Children’s National Medical Center, Washington D.C.

 

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