Person of the Week: Medics of Iraq

June 2, 2006 — -- In late January, when military doctors saved the lives of our colleagues Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, we saw firsthand just how sophisticated medical care is for the troops in Iraq.

We were reminded again this week when doctors did the same for CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was injured during a roadside attack in Iraq.

The doctors in Baghdad were ready to work at a moment's notice.

"We don't really need much preparation. These medics, these nurses are so good, I just walk into a place that's ready to rock and roll right when I get there," said Capt. David Steinbruner, an emergency room doctor.

He works at the Baghdad combat support hospital, or CASH, which is a direct descendant of the Korean War-era MASH units.

"We always prepare for worst case scenarios, so we never are surprised by what we get," said Sgt. Brandom Benjamin, an ER medic. "If you prepare for the worst, then you can handle the easy stuff."

'Pure Trauma'

The unit treats Iraqis -- children and adults -- as well as the troops. The team worked on Dozier and the soldiers who were injured by an improvised explosive device on Monday. For the medics, it was just another day at the office.

"A lot of people come in with their legs missing, extremities missing, a lot of shrapnel to their lower extremities, to their heads, a lot of gunshot wounds. … Wwe see a lot of burns," said emergency room medic Sgt. Bennette Crosby.

During Monday's attack they were so busy at this unit that they ran low on blood, so they got on the loudspeakers and asked for help. Soldiers based near the hospital rolled up their sleeves and in no time they had 100 pints.

"Our soldiers here, out here in Iraq, are willing to do whatever it takes. If it takes giving blood they give blood," Benjamin said.

"This is one of the best trauma centers in the world right now, unique because of the volume that we see of trauma," Steinbruner said. "There's no background noise. There's not a lot of back pain or chronic abdominal pain. … What we just have is pure trauma."

When patients get to CASH, there's a better than 90 percent chance that, like journalist Kimberly Dozier, they will survive.

"The three of us didn't save her life. We were links in a chain that began with a young medic who'd never actually seen combat casualties before who put tourniquets on appropriately," Steinbruner said.

Among the men who helped the IED victims on the street Monday was combat medic Izzy Flores, who was working under extreme conditions. "Someone had yelled out 'we're taking fire' and I just remember working on one of the sergeants thinking 'please don't shoot me now. I've got to finish this,'" Flores said.

Soldiers are equipped with medical packs and are trained on how to use them. On Monday, one of the injured soldiers was able to use the pack to apply a tourniquet to his leg. All of the six wounded soldiers are now recovering.

"There's a chain here -- if broken, she dies, and it wasn't ever broken. And that happens every day in Iraq," Steinbruner said.