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Doctor Strives To Save Lives Of Combatants

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(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

By COURTNEY MABEUS
The News-Post of Frederick

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Col. Dallas Hack works to save lives on the battlefield, even though he is thousands of miles from any combat arena.

A doctor by training, Hack directs the U.S. Army’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program at Fort Detrick, putting him at the forefront of research into how to protect combatants and helping to save lives that could have been cut short by battlefield injuries.

It’s not an easy job and it’s one that Hack, who routinely works 15- to 16-hour days, takes as an honor, knowing he is serving the men and women on the front lines.

“Trying to save their lives is our first priority,” Hack said.

The work is wide-ranging. Hack helps to direct about $350 million of research extending to more than 1,000 projects and clinical trials to help improve trauma care. About half of those projects address traumatic brain injury to help better understand and diagnose an issue that the military has been grappling with since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

Work in that realm now includes placing sensors in helmets and on body armor to measure impact from blasts that can cause traumatic brain and other injuries, Hack said.

“Many of the major trauma advances come from the military because that’s, unfortunately, what we face,” Hack said.

Because the military is a leader in developing trauma care, the work has real-world implications, Hack said, sitting at a conference table in an aging building at Fort Detrick that provides a stark contrast to the advanced research his program helps to herald.

By challenging old conventions about the long-term implications of cutting off blood supply to an extremity, for example, program researchers developed a tourniquet that has helped to save as many as 4,000 lives on the battlefield alone.

“The main preventable cause of death on the battlefield is bleeding,” Hack said.

In October, the program’s work was honored by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine with the Maj. Jonathan Letterman Medical Excellence Award.

Letterman, a surgeon, served as medical director of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War and was known as the “Father of Battlefield Medicine” for devising a system of mobile field and base hospitals, and first aid stations. The award was established to recognize contributions in improving medicine and patient outcomes.

April Dietrich, the institute’s director, said the program “best exemplified the spirit of Jonathan Letterman because of the innovation, creativity and dedication to mission — saving the warfighter — that the CCCRP demonstrated.”

Hack, who grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, was surprised by the honor and does not take it lightly.

“It’s become a fairly prestigious award,” he said.

Hack graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1976. He worked in general practice but also spent years in engineering, working for biomedical companies, before the military came calling.

He was 35 years old when he joined the Army in 1987 as a major.

“I was in California. I was literally just getting up, and I got this strange call from Maryland. Cold call. I don’t even know how they got the number,” Hack said.

He expected to spend a couple of years with the Army and then move on. But being able to combine his medical and engineering skills to advance lifesaving technologies and directly affect outcomes on the front lines has kept Hack going, he said.

“The challenge is how much we still don’t know and how much still needs to be done.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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