The family had escaped from Mariupol, Ukraine, just weeks after the invasion began. As they were leaving, their car was hit by small arms fire. The mother was killed. Both father and child were shot, leaving the child with a fractured leg that required surgery.
On the ground, doctors quickly traveled to the family to place tourniquets, splint the fractures and initiate additional treatments. They stabilized the survivors before heading to the hospital where the girl was operated on.
Amid the horror of war, healthcare workers provided life-saving care that followed the principles of trauma resuscitation – with training from a former Army doctor who now practices in Michigan.
“Initial stabilization and good prehospital care can make all the difference in these situations,” said Florian Schmitzberger, an emergency physician at UM Health. “When this is followed by good trauma care in hospital, it helps to survive even some of the worst cases.”
Before beginning his medical studies in Germany, Schmitzberger was a medic in the Austrian army. His time in the military led him into emergency medicine and he started going on medical rescue missions in 2009 to use his skills in trauma and pre-hospital care.
By the time he arrived in the United States for his residency in 2018, Schmitzberger’s humanitarian work had taken him from the Burmese border to the Syrian border, from Venezuela to Afghanistan.
In March, after Russia invaded Ukraine, he was called to fly.
“I was assigned to be the medical lead for the first educational mission since roughly the start of the conflict,” said Schmitzberger, who works with the nongovernmental organization Global Response Management.
“Healthcare workers in Ukraine were ready to absorb all of this information because they were concerned about providing the best possible care to a growing number of trauma patients with many different needs.”
Schmitzberger has since lectured to hundreds of health care providers — doctors, nurses, and others — drawing on his past experience in other conflicts. His training covered many facets of care, from stabilization at the point of injury using tourniquets and chest tubes to advanced trauma resuscitation in the hospital.
He and his team have also worked to improve emergency medical transport of patients to safe areas inside and outside the country, as well as to provide direct surgical medical relief to hospitals filled with sick and injured patients. .
“Their medical system is pretty good, but a lot of hospitals weren’t used to dealing with acute traumatic injuries, especially in the numbers they were seeing,” Schmitzberger said. “We had several busy conferences and trainings, and it was really great to see them implementing the advice we were giving, as well as what I learned from working in past conflicts, in real time.”
In areas with more combat activity, the World Health Organization had instructed Schmitzberger and his team to provide direct patient care. There they worked directly with the doctors who had not left the hospital since the start of the war.
As providers adjust to the needs of patients in a country under fire, the former doctor has also worked to bring his experience from residency training to provide as much relief as possible.
“Working in a trauma center in Flint, we see an unfortunate number of penetrating injuries,” he said. “So I try to bring that knowledge to help them deal with very unique situations.”
Pre-hospital or out-of-hospital care is a critical component of the healthcare continuum, said Graham Smith, an emergency physician at UM Health and deputy medical director for the Washtenaw/Livingston Medical Control Authority.
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“Especially in trauma, efficient and effective pre-hospital care and transport can save lives,” Smith said. “Dr. Schmitzberger has extensive experience in the field of prehospital and hospital emergency medicine.
“It’s fantastic to see him use his skills and knowledge in these creative and critical endeavors around the world. Most important, however, is that Dr. Schmitzberger is a genuine, kind physician and truly cares about others. That shows in all the work he does.
Schmitzberger has now visited Ukraine twice during the war, making a return trip a month after his initial assignment. The organization he works with continues operations there indefinitely, and as he continues to provide logistical support from Michigan, Schmitzberger hopes to return.
“This is kind of turning into a war of attrition, and the people of Ukraine so deserve our support,” he said. “I encourage all health care providers who want to help to contact me, as there are sure ways to help. You don’t need military experience to tell the difference.
Questions and answers
What memorable workplace moment stands out?
There are too many to count, but come to think of it, the best workplace memories are when it seemed like the whole department and all the professional families worked together to help a patient. While dealing with very sick patients is always difficult, the team aspect of the job is what makes it great.
What can’t you live without?
Travel, which made the COVID years even more difficult.
Name your favorite place on campus.
Everywhere outside when the weather permits!
What inspires you?
People who dedicate their lives and careers to supporting their communities. They are all over the world, those who work because it has to be done, for the good of the people around them.
What are you currently reading?
“The House in the Azure Sea” by TJ Klune.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career path?
The writers of the television show “ER”