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Bringing home lessons learned in battle

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

For a while this month, Dr. Walter Franz III will don his stethoscope as a family physician at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic, his 30th anniversary there.

He returned just a month ago from an Army Reserves deployment to Al Asad, Iraq.

"What we’re learning on the battlefield, we’re trying to bring back to the bedside to make things better," Franz told more than 100 civilian nurses and other health providers Tuesday during Nursing Practice Grand Rounds at the clinic.

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Talking politics isn’t allowed.

"So I’ll leave it to you in November. You vote your conscience and your knowledge about your candidates and we’ll follow suit," he said. Franz, a colonel, will soon return to Iraq in November in his role as a military doctor, this time as commander of the 945th Forward Surgical team.

"It’ll be a great honor," Franz said. "It’s basically a Minnesota unit."

In Iraq, all injured get treated, he said, including U.S. soldiers, insurgents and Iraqi civilians.

"Some Iraqis don’t want us there. But we also have Iraqis who sacrifice everything to help us," he said.

Franz, who has served in Iraq twice, described what’s been learned so far in one of the largest-ever scientific studies of battlefield trauma. In the old days, soldiers would grab whatever was nearby, such as a belt, for a tourniquet to stop bleeding.

"But what if you had to continue to fight and put a tourniquet on yourself?," Franz asked. Ninety percent of war injuries occur far from care.

So each soldier now carries a tourniquet that can be put on single-handed.

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The percentage of soldiers killed in action has fallen from previous wars. One new technique uses a hemophilia medicine.

"It almost miraculously stops bleeding and it gains those miraculous minutes, that magic time, to get them into the operating room," Franz said.

In Iraq, the OR is kept at 108 degrees. Why? It prevents hypothermia, low body temperature that raises stress on the body. "If all of us sweat in the OR, it’s for good reason," Franz said.

Many new things are being learned about pain control as well, he said.

Still, not everyone can be saved. The man who replaced him after his first tour of duty was killed in action.

Yet combat hospitals want to offer reassurance. One room has a U.S. flag for a ceiling. When injured soldiers awaken disoriented, they know it’s friendly territory.

The same respect is given to soldiers killed in action. Franz had his audience stand to honor the dead as the image of a soldier’s body draped in a flag crossed the screen. While the audience looked at the image, he silently saluted the fallen.

What can Americans do to help?

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Talk to your state and federal representatives about the military surge, Franz said. Then ask, "How about looking at a humanitarian surge?," he said, suggesting a Marshall plan is needed for Iraq like the one designed to help Europe after World War II.

"My naive understanding of security is when people have something that they treasure, they protect it and they don’t want it to go away," he said.

His wife Dinah said Americans can also help soldiers’ family members by offering to visit.

"I’ve had people shovel my sidewalk that I have no idea who did it," she said. "Those kind of random acts of kindness are nice."

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