Trauma Lessons

OPB | April 18, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:41 p.m.

How will the Iraq War change medicine?

Wars are often defined by injury and trauma — and reported as incrementally increasing casualty counts. The Iraq War has been no different. The latest grim milestone brought news of over 4,000 U.S. fatalities and over 29,000 wounded.

But there is another lens. Despite the injury and trauma — or, rather, as a direct result of them — wars have served as laboratories for medical care. As armies refine ways to kill each other, in other words, doctors are given a chance to refine their techniques as well.

So WWI introduced the concept of “triage.” WWII saw the widespread use of antibiotics and blood replacement. And Korea and Vietnam brought MASH units and helicopter evacuation. In fact, many of the procedures and technology we take for granted in our hospitals today actually came out of the war experience.

After five years, the Iraq War’s particular additions to this history are becoming clearer. From bandages that heal wounds to faster, more efficient trauma care, this war has led to a series of scientific breakthroughs that have already helped save lives on the battlefield and at home. The military is now hedging its bets on regenerative science — revolutionary technology that uses adult stem cells to help repair and re-grow muscles, tissue, and even broken limbs for soldiers coming back from Iraq. It sounds like science fiction, but this week the Oregon Medical Laser Center received a $1.5 million grant to explore just that possibility.

What do you think about the role that conflicts play in improving medicine? Are you a doctor or a nurse who has worked in a conflict zone? What are your own thoughts about military medicine and how soldiers are treated in the field? Are these medical advances some of that elusive “good news” out of Iraq?

How will your visit to the hospital next year — or in ten years — be different because of Iraq?

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Photo credit: Kansas City Royalty / Flickr / Creative Commons

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