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SAMMC’s trauma mission benefits San Antonio, medical readiness

BAMC News & Awards



Story by Lori Newman, BAMC Public Affairs
Published March 10, 2016



Photos by Robert Whetstone

San Antonio Military Medical Center personnel provide care to a trauma patient in the Emergency Department. SAMMC is one of two Level I Trauma Center’s in the city of San Antonio and the one Level I Trauma Center in the Department of Defense.

“Trauma team to the trauma room” often rings through the halls of San Antonio Military Medical Center throughout the day and the night. SAMMC is one of two Level I Trauma Centers in the city of San Antonio, which leads to many unique traumas coming through the emergency department each day.

“SAMMC’s emergency department is one of the largest [and busiest] emergency departments in south Texas,” said Army Col. Michael Hilliard, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at SAMMC.

“Our annual volume approaches 85,000 patients a year, of which about 4,000 of those patients are trauma patients,” Hilliard said. “Our trauma volume has continued to grow over the past three years from 3,000 to now over 4,000 patients per year.”

SAMMC works closely with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council and University Hospital, San Antonio’s other Level I Trauma Center here, to provide trauma care to citizens of the city and other rural areas of southwest Texas. STRAC’s mission is to develop, implement and maintain the regional trauma and emergency health care system for 22 counties encompassing over 26,000 square miles in southwest Texas to the Mexico border.

Common trauma cases range from shootings, stabbings, car wrecks and severe burns.

“We have been involved with trauma in the community of San Antonio since 1975 officially and probably even before then,” said Army Col. Kurt Edwards, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at SAMMC.

“As we provide excellent care to the people [of southwest Texas], we understand that the experiences we have in deployed or combat situations allow us to provide even better care here,” he said. “And it allows us to also provide better care to military members who are injured.”

Hilliard agrees. “The types of cases we see here absolutely help prepare us for downrange. It may not be the same as an IED but gunshots, stabbings, multiple car accidents those types of injuries and the way the body responses to them is very similar to how it is when we are downrange and in war.

“Our staff is completely devoted to the trauma mission,” Hilliard said. “This is where we train our physicians, nurses and medics to be prepared to take care of all our service members downrange in conflict who are protecting our country.”

Some trauma cases are more unusual; in 2012, Sherri Ellis was brought to SAMMC with severe injuries caused from being trampled by the cow on her rural farm.

The cow had recently given birth and was protecting her calf. When Ellis was trying to feed the cattle, the cow knocked her down and trampled her.

She was flown to SAMMC for treatment. Her injures were severe and her recovery long, but she and her husband were grateful for the care she received at SAMMC.

“The ER nurses were phenomenal,” Larry Ellis said. “They were as big a part of saving her life as the doctors.”

“I owe my life to this hospital. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here,” Ellis said. “I’m eternally grateful to the doctors and the staff [at SAMMC].”

Army Lt. Col. Debra Chappel, chief nurse for the Department of Emergency Nursing, said she loves working at SAMMC and contributing to the trauma mission for San Antonio.

“The magnitude of nurses that I have working here with me is outstanding,” Chappel said.

City and state leaders have praised SAMMC’s contributions to the health and wellbeing of the people of southwest Texas.

“I’m so incredibly proud of this facility, in typical Texas fashion, I think it’s the very best in the entire nation and in the entire world,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott. “The role that it plays for both our military as well as our civilians is absolutely essential.”