September 14, 2001

Burn Center ready for worst

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Medical student Laurie Archbald reacts to the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Laurie had already talked to her sister, a pediatrician in New York City, and knew she was safe after the attack. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Burn Center ready for worst

Within hours of the terrorist attacks on Tuesday, staff members at VUMC’s Burn Center were ready to help with victims, despite being many hundreds of miles away.

Dr. Jeffrey S. Guy, medical director of the Burn Center, said federal officials contacted him a short time after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C. Immediately, Burn Center staff members prepared the Vanderbilt location, he said, ready to accept any victims.

“We were asked by federal officials what our bed status was and if we would be willing to accept patients. We told them we would be glad to help out if needed,” said Guy.

“We normally have 18 beds, but the administration at VUMC gave us tremendous support by making available to us 44 intensive care beds and 24 non-intensive care beds,” he added.

Vanderbilt received national and international news media coverage following the federal call for assistance, including a mention by Peter Jennings on ABC’s continuing coverage Tuesday night and by Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABC’s medical correspondent, Wednesday morning.

Guy says there are about 100 burn units in the nation with a total of 1900 beds. Several large burn centers are in the southeast United States and all of those were put on alert.

“Our expertise here at Vanderbilt is dealing with both adult and pediatric burns, which was of special interest in this case,” said Guy.

The VUMC Burn Center ultimately received no patients and as of Wednesday morning, 24 hours after the attack, the Burn Center was no longer on alert status, according to Guy.

“The fact that we are not getting and did not get patients is a grim reminder of how devastating the attack was,” Guy said. “Everyone is touched by this tragedy, and we are here to help if called upon.”

Guy said he was especially pleased with the VUMC administration’s quick and complete support.

“They were very willing to help and it was especially gratifying to have such an immediate response from the administration and to have them make such a large number of beds available.”

According to national statistics, there is one burn center for every six trauma centers in the United States. Guy said while the key to trauma treatment is immediate help, with burn victims, once stabilized, they can be moved to more remote locations for treatment.

Guy said medical crews at Vanderbilt had considered travelling to the New York and Washington, D.C. area to help treat victims of the attack, but decided it would be best to stay here at this time.

“The medical teams are doing a good job up there,” Guy said. “The system is saturated right now. There are only so many operating rooms and so many supplies available.

“If they need our help, we are here and ready to activate if needed. Our thoughts are with them.”

Sixteen nurses, technicians and therapists staff the 18-bed Burn Center at Vanderbilt.

“We are all speechless regarding this tragedy. The nurses and all of our staff have been devastated by the horrible news, but we stand ready to help in any way we can,” Guy said.