Everett surgeon gets vivid look at cost of war

Five thousand miles from home, and working inside the unfamiliar, gray maze of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Dr. Jay Cook watched as an injured soldier was wheeled into the hospital’s intensive care unit.

He remembers feeling an odd sense of familiarity, thinking: “They’re just a few years older than my son.

“These are just kids,” he said. “They’re doing what we asked them to do … It hit home to me how important it is that we do the right thing by them.”

Cook, a vascular surgeon who works in Everett, had signed up for an unusual two-week volunteer stint, to operate on service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many had been in war zones just 48 hours before.

Cook’s specialty — repairing veins and arteries in areas of the body other than the heart or inside the skull — is in high demand at the medical center. Many of the injuries treated there are to the hands, chest, pelvis, feet, legs and arms, often caused by roadside bombs.

Cook participated in a national volunteer program organized by the Society for Vascular Surgery. Nearly 50 surgeons have been sent to the German medical center since September 2007, said Emily Kalata, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Doctors from across the country have volunteered, but only one other surgeon from Washington has participated, she said.

Some surgeons have volunteered multiple times, Cook said, and the program is often booked out six months in advance.

Cook, 53, said he first thought of volunteering for the program several years ago, but wasn’t able to work out time away from his job in Everett.

Among other duties, Cook helps treat trauma patients at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Roadside bombs still cause a variety of serious injuries despite body armor and more protection, or armoring, being built into military vehicles, he said.

The protection helps soldiers survive the blasts but leaves them with severe injuries to the chest, abdomen, hands, legs, hips, head and spine, he said.

Soldiers arriving at the military hospital in Germany will have already received initial treatment to stabilize their injuries. They are generally transported to Germany within 24 to 48 hours of that initial care.

Cook’s duties included assisting in several spinal surgeries, including one to stabilize a crushed vertebra, and conducting two procedures to put a filter in a vein to the heart to prevent blood clots from going to the patient’s lung.

“I was happy, proud and honored to be able to contribute something,” Cook said.

The experience underscored to him how important it is for people to volunteer for whatever cause they believe in.

One nonprofit that provides help to military families is Fisher House, providing housing to those who have a family member hospitalized for illness or injury. The organization had two facilities near the Landstuhl medical center, he said.

“There are so many things that need to get done in the world that are so worthy, it’s almost overwhelming,” he said.

“If everyone was able to just give a little bit — time, talent, financially — it would really help … Everybody has something to give.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.

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