I’ve spent my professional life as a trauma surgeon. Sewing up holes, trying to put the bodies back together of people who’ve been damaged in some way by physical energy. Sometimes that’s a bullet. Sometimes it’s a knife. Sometimes it’s a fist and most commonly it’s a fall or a car crash. The ways people hurt themselves and the ways people get hurt are truly amazing in terms of the variety and the severity. It’s also shocking to see the devastation that occurs to families upon the loss of someone they love from a severe injury, especially if that someone is their child. It’s inspiring to see how determinedly and desperately people fight to stay alive, to restore their life, to find meaning in the world after major injuries have occurred.
I’ve spent my life fighting this. Trying to minimize the effect of these injuries on countless, literally thousands and thousands of patients. Today, injury is still the number one killer of our children in the United States of America. It’s more than are dying from cancer. It’s more than are dying from infectious diseases. In fact, more children die from injuries than from everything else combined.It devastates me.
I talk about this to people all over the place and they’re always amazed when I quote that simple statistic. More of our children will die this year from injuries than all other causes put together. They commonly ask follow up questions. “What is the most common cause?” I answer that it depends on the age group. Toddlers have home accidents. Teenagers have car crashes. Kids in their teens and beyond die from intentional violence and suicide, very commonly and very tragically.
They ask, “What are we doing about this as a country?” I say, in terms of treatment, the strategy for preventing these deaths is 1) to prevent the injuries from occurring in the first place and 2) to prevent deaths after the injuries occur by improving the trauma care these patients receive. We need to be working on all of those fronts. We need to be working to raise public awareness of the problem so that people everywhere in our country can get behind whatever solutions we can find to solve this problem.
One of the best solutions, and one I advocate for, is the development of better trauma systems for children in the U.S. It is the best way to reduce the number of deaths from injury that we know of today in the medical world. In fact, if people could think of trauma systems as a vaccine or as a treatment, such as chemotherapy for treating cancer, they would be up in arms over the inconsistency of the trauma systems that exist in our nation. Everyone would be outraged over the tiny amount of support that comes from our public policy makers to support trauma systems for our children.
I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep sewing up the holes, but we’ll never stop this problem by sewing up the holes alone.
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