Army Vet Helps Develop Life-Saving Device for Treating Battlefield Wounds
Growing up in Erie, Penn., John Steinbaugh loved the outdoors, guns and hunting, he recalled, so becoming an infantryman seemed a natural fit. So, he joined the Army in 1987 as something to do out of high school. "The plan was to join the infantry, be there for 4 years, get out and go to college," Steinbaugh said.
While in the Army, he discovered the Special Forces. "When I joined Special Forces, I joined with the intention to be a weapons guy or something tactical similar to the infantry," he said.
But Special Forces had a different plan for him. After the selection process, he was chosen to be a medic.
The job of medics changed dramatically after 2001, he said, from a "total training environment" to a relative paucity of training. "No more fake deployment stuff. Everything you do is real combat for 12 years. I did that for 12 years of my life," he said.
Steinbaugh spent 20 years in the Army as a Special Forces medic and had several deployments and rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Four years before his retirement, he was approached by the Army to work on a project to speed up the process of saving wounded soldiers. They needed an expert in research and development in the Special Operations Command.
"Medics returning from the battlefield would say we need a lighter aid bag, a lighter litter; we need a better hemorrhage-control product," he recalled. It was Steinbaugh' s job to reach out to the civilian industry to find something that was available or could be modified to fulfill the medics' needs in the battlefield.
While Steinbaugh was working in the Army, his predecessor started a project for hemorrhage control with RevMedx, a company based in Oregon that creates medical products designed specifically for combat medics and civilian first responders focused on controlling hemorrhages in pre-hospital settings. He took over the project and when he retired from the Army in 2012 he went to work with them.
He is is now the liaison between the military and RevMedx. "I make sure that the products we are designing stay on track to make sure the medic in combat gets exactly what he wants in the battlefield," he said.
One of the company's ground-breaking hemorrhage control products is the FDA-approved XStat , a device used to treat gunshot and shrapnel wounds on the battlefield. It works by injecting a group of small, rapidly-expanding sponges into a wound cavity using a syringe-like applicator. Once in, sponges expand and swell to fill the wound cavity within 15 seconds of contact with blood, creating a barrier to block blood flow and provide pressure.
"The product puts internal pressure in the wound, which frees up the medic to continue to work on other wounds or even to stabilize another casualty in that three minutes he would have had to hold pressure," he said.
Many medics complained about antiquated gear and wanted better technology, Steinbaugh said. "The modern medic wants a modern product. They want something that's light, fits. You fit it in the wound and the bleeding stops in seconds and they can move on to treat another person and be more efficient," he added.
RevMedx founder and president Andrew D. Barofsky noted the importance of having a veteran medic on his staff. "What's very important about having John here is that he's an experienced combat veteran medic that understands that environment and the challenges of treating bullet wounds in the battlefield, so he brings that direct experience to us so that we can ensure that the design inputs for medical devices incorporate that," Barofsky said.
For Steinbaugh, being part of the RevMedx team allows him to interact with the military.
"After 25 years in the military, I had an abrupt interruption and transitioned to civilian life. Being part of RevMedx gave me purpose and focus to keep working on products for guys that I still know in the military and medics that I've been in combat with several times. They are my friends," he said.
The company has four other products, including XGauze, Air Wrap, TX Tourniquets and Shark Bite Trauma Kit - all designed to stop hemorrhages. The XStat product is currently in pre-production and will be available for battlefield use later this year. The company also hopes to provide the product to law enforcement agencies.
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world. For more stories, click here.
ABC News video editor Arthur Niemynski contributed to this report.