War unfortunately – and fortunately – activates the urgent need for better ways to treat troops on and off the battlefield. Army medicine has come a long way since the days of unleashing leeches to let blood and killing pain with toxic chloroform, two trademarks of Civil War-era battlefield medicine. Typhoid vaccine, penicillin and MEDEVAC are just a few of the many inventions war has yielded since then.
But it’s only within the past 11 years that military medicine has achieved a 90 percent survival rate for troops wounded in combat. Military researchers and physicians have perfected techniques and created innovative ways to save limbs, tissue, minds and lives.
In honor of National Patient Recognition Day, our brave Wounded Warriors and those who heal them, here are the top five Army medical innovations of the past 11 years:
Medal of Honor recipient Army Sgt. 1st. Class Leroy Petry. Petry's right hand was traumatically amputated and he now uses a state-of-the-art prosthesis, which allows him amazing dexterity.
Near-human prosthetics. Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry showcased just how high-tech prosthetic devices have become with the dexterity of his humanlike hand. Thanks to special attachments and a super-sensitive sleeve that picks up muscle movements, Petry can golf, slice food and use tools. A “neurally integrated” arm that uses small surgically implanted wireless devices to directly control the arm with thoughts — just like a real arm — is almost on the market. Braces and bionic legs allow limpers to walk, run and sprint again. Thanks to revolutionary prosthetics, Petry and other wounded vets can do more now than ever…even return to active duty.
Blood-clotting bandages. Seafood in your band-aid? The Army’s chitosan bandage uses carbohydrates from the shells of shrimp, lobster and other animals to bond with blood cells and stop bleeding. The Army also developed Combat Gauze, a pad infused with kaolin, a soft white clay known for its clotting ability. When applied to a wound, the gauze triggers the body to coagulate, dramatically reducing the risk for hemorrhage. It’s easy to remove and protects wounds from dangerous debris and bacteria. Quick clotting is critical, since 86 percent of all battlefield deaths occur within the first 30 minutes after injury. But Combat Gauze and coagulants have helped reduce the the killed-in-action rate of American troops by 25 percent.
One-handed tourniquets. About half of troops who die on the battlefield bleed to death in minutes, before they can be evacuated to an aid station. Sometimes the medic can’t get there on time or simply isn’t assigned to the unit. Enter the one-handed tourniquet, or Combat Application Tourniquet, as it is officially known — now standard issue for all U.S. Soldiers heading into battle. With this lightweight, easy-to-use, quickly deployable tool, Soldiers and their battle buddies can stop bleeding on the spot. Reports from the field show that no other device has saved more lives before getting to a hospital. It’s already being used by emergency medical technicians in civilian trauma care.
Brooke Army Medical Center, home to the U.S. Army state-of-the-art Burn Center
Better burn care. IED explosions have caused some of the worst burns seen in U.S. military medical history. One of the biggest problems in treating burns is regulating the administration of fluid to the wound. Too much or too little yields poor outcomes. So the Army invented the Burn Resuscitation Decision Support System to help health care providers determine how much fluid to give patients. The system uses an algorithm that recommends how much IV fluid to balance the delicate equilibrium of fluid intake 48 hours after the burn.
TBI and behavioral health treatment. Many injuries in war are unseen. Multiple deployments, traumatic brain injuries, interpersonal relationship problems, drug and alcohol abuse and just the trauma of going to war has left many Soldiers wounded inside. The challenges of healing our heroes abound, erasing the stigma of seeking help chief among them, but the Army has made strides in providing answers. The inception of Warrior Transition Units to ease vets into civilian life or back into active duty has proved successful by including clinical social workers, nurse case managers, squad leaders and Families to heal the whole person. More than 40,000 wounded and ill Soldiers have transitioned through 29 WTUs worldwide. The Army’s innovative tele-behavioral health care has also helped improve access for Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And last but not least, the Army implemented a TBI management strategy, mandating that any Soldier at risk for TBI receive medical attention within 24 hours as well as medical clearance before returning to duty.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and counts only a few of the many contributions the Army has made to modern medicine. What do you think are the most important medical innovations to result from war? What do you hope to see in the future?
Today, we honor those healing from the wounds of war, seen and unseen. We salute the brilliant minds and dedicated hearts of Army Medicine, to whom patients have entrusted their care. Army Strong.
Blog post submitted by Shayna Brouker, Public Affair Specialist, Department of the Army Intern