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Posted: September 11, 2013

Students learn disaster medicine from heroic physicians

UNTHSC ROME Emergency Medicine presentation
Steven C. Ellerbe, DO, (left) and John Bowling, DO,
Assistant Dean, Rural Medical Education, use a manikin
to train students to inject medication into bone
marrow if a patient's veins have collapsed.
"I don't know how I got out alive," said George Smith, DO, recalling the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that brought a roof crashing onto his head.

The April 17 disaster demolished his house and clinic, and destroyed the local EMS, nursing home and assisted living center where he serves as medical director. Worst of all, it killed 10 of his friends.

Smith traveled to UNTHSC recently to share his experiences with medical students. "Disaster drills are essential, but most of all you need to know how to think on your feet," he said.

Smith's talk was part of a half-day presentation to help students in the Rural Osteopathic Medical Education program understand the challenges of small-town medical practice.

The massive fire and explosions at the West Fertilizer Co., 70 miles south of Fort Worth, killed 14 people and injured 160.

Smith was helping evacuate the nursing home when the blast shattered the roof and windows. He kept working.

"I had shrapnel in my face, glass shards in my back. I got stitches later," said Smith, whose bloodied face was on international television during interviews immediately after the disaster. "I didn't sleep for 36 hours."

Steven C. Ellerbe, DO ('90) presented another aspect of disaster medicine to ROME program students. He's a veteran of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, and helped his Southeast Texas community prepare, evacuate and recover.

Ellerbe operates the only full-service clinic serving Liberty, Texas, and several nearby towns. During both Rita and Ike, he stayed in town and treated injuries.

Though saddened by their communities' travails, Smith and Ellerbe were impressed with their towns' generosity and outsiders' compassion. In Rita's aftermath, Ellerbe stitched up the gashed face of a San Antonio utility lineman. When Ike struck three years later, the grateful lineman returned and helped Ellerbe find a generator big enough to power his clinic.

Both physicians explained to the ROME students how to prepare for a disaster through activities such as building partnerships with regional, state and federal emergency services.

Learn more: Office of Rural Medical Education

If you are with the media and need additional information or would like to arrange an interview,
please contact Jeff Carlton, Director of Media Relations, at 817-735-7630.


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