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Practicing Medicine with a Human Touch

Just after 7 a.m., on June 14, 2017, as more than a dozen Republican members of Congress were practicing for a congressional charity baseball game, bullets streaked across Eugene Simpson Field in Alexandria, Virginia. A harrowing 10-minute shootout between the gunman and Capitol Police followed. The attack left Matt Mika, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R–La.), and two others seriously injured. Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods and former Republican congressional aide, was rushed to George Washington University (GW) Hospital with gunshot wounds to his chest. His life hung in the balance, according to Mary Schroeder, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), who was on duty in the emergency department at GW Hospital, one of only three Level One Trauma centers serving adults in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to the care he received at GW, Mika made it through his injuries and operations, and, though therapy continues, five months later he was able to tell his story at the GW Hospital’s 6th Annual Trauma Survivors Day.

You can prepare for elective surgery, explained Anton Sidawy, MD, MPH ’99, Lewis B. Saltz Chair and Professor of Surgery at SMHS and president of the GW Medical Faculty Associates, at the start of the event. “[But] when you get into an accident, you cannot prepare ... It’s hard for the patient and on the family,” he added. “I know that [the trauma team] here at GW is careful to include the family in treatment.”

When these patients arrive at GW Hospital it is only the beginning of a long road to recovery, said GW Hospital CEO and Managing Director Kimberly Russo, MBA, MS. “Our team comes together day in and day out to spring into action and save lives. Every day, week, and month our providers and administrators are with these patients every step of the way.”

Six patients, including Mika, were on hand to share their stories at the event, which reunites trauma patients with the first responders and hospital care team that helped them down the road to recovery.

“It might be a bad idea to give a political person a microphone,” Mika joked as he took his turn to address the audience. He thanked by name each of the first responders who came to his aid that day as well as the members of his care team at GW.

According to Mika, he saw signs that he was going to make it: Schroeder went to Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, where Mika is from. Another of his surgeons, Sam Moghtaderi, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at SMHS, went to the University of Pittsburgh, his parents’ alma mater.

“These links are a clear sign that someone was watching over me that day,” he said.

Before leaving the stage, Mika left the audience with a quote displayed in Schroeder’s office, the words that got him through the experience: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

Babak Sarani, MD ’97, chief of trauma and acute care at GW Hospital and associate professor of surgery at SMHS, invited the first patient, Willow Rawlinson, to the stage. Rawlinson was critically injured in an auto accident en route to Disney World. She had severe orthopaedic injuries including a broken thigh and pelvis. GW Hospital worked with Children’s National Medical Center to treat these complex injuries.

As always, GW Hospital personnel made Rawlinson’s comfort a priority. Jeffrey Berger, MD, associate dean for graduate medical education and professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at SMHS, even brought her an iPad from home to keep her entertained, Sarani said. “This exemplifies the spirit of GW and shows that, yes, we are good at practicing medicine, but we are exceptional at practicing medicine with a human touch.”

Another patient, Marsia Geldert-Murphy, was taken to GW Hospital after being found unresponsive in an elevator. The team worked to find the cause and discovered that she had a substantial brain bleed.

“It’s fitting that this event is happening just before Thanksgiving,” Geldert-Murphey said. “I feel that I owe my life to the GW staff and first responders who got me here.