Students learn disaster medicine from heroic physicians

September 11, 2013

Steven C. Ellerbe, DO, (left) and John Bowling, DO,
Assistant Dean, Rural Medical Education, use a manikin
to train students to inject medication into bone
marrow if a patient’s veins have collapsed.

"I don’t know how I got out alive," said George Smith, DO, recalling the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that brought a roof crashing onto his head.

The April 17 disaster demolished his house and clinic, and destroyed the local EMS, nursing home and assisted living center where he serves as medical director. Worst of all, it killed 10 of his friends.

Smith traveled to UNTHSC recently to share his experiences with medical students. "Disaster drills are essential, but most of all you need to know how to think on your feet," he said.

Smith’s talk was part of a half-day presentation to help students in the Rural Osteopathic Medical Education program understand the challenges of small-town medical practice.

The massive fire and explosions at the West Fertilizer Co., 70 miles south of Fort Worth, killed 14 people and injured 160.

Smith was helping evacuate the nursing home when the blast shattered the roof and windows. He kept working.

"I had shrapnel in my face, glass shards in my back. I got stitches later," said Smith, whose bloodied face was on international television during interviews immediately after the disaster. "I didn’t sleep for 36 hours."

Steven C. Ellerbe, DO (’90) presented another aspect of disaster medicine to ROME program students. He’s a veteran of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, and helped his Southeast Texas community prepare, evacuate and recover.

Ellerbe operates the only full-service clinic serving Liberty, Texas, and several nearby towns. During both Rita and Ike, he stayed in town and treated injuries.

Though saddened by their communities’ travails, Smith and Ellerbe were impressed with their towns’ generosity and outsiders’ compassion. In Rita’s aftermath, Ellerbe stitched up the gashed face of a San Antonio utility lineman. When Ike struck three years later, the grateful lineman returned and helped Ellerbe find a generator big enough to power his clinic.

Both physicians explained to the ROME students how to prepare for a disaster through activities such as building partnerships with regional, state and federal emergency services.

Learn more: Office of Rural Medical Education

Vic Holmes, Mpas, Edd, Pa C Assistant Professor
HSC Pride: Increased pronoun use is an emerging trend among health professionals

By Diane Smith-Pinckney The embroidery on Vic Holmes’ black scrubs identify him as a physician assistant and an ally to LGBTQ+ patients. The words, stitched under a rainbow-colored Caduceus pin and near his heart, read: “Vic Holmes, PA-C, He/Him/His, Family Medicine.” Pronouns are...Read more

Jun 21, 2021

Hsc Katie Pelch
Public health scientist lends expertise to national database addressing safer use of chemicals in our environment

By Sally Crocker Katie Pelch, PhD, wants you to know what’s in our environment and how the chemicals we’re exposed to every day may affect our health. Dr. Pelch is a part-time Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, in the HSC School of Public Health (SPH), where...Read more

Jun 21, 2021

Hsc Tcom Gold Humanism Society Inductees Fc
TCOM Chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society welcomes new inductees 

By Steven Bartolotta The humanistic side of medicine is alive and well at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. The TCOM Chapter of the Arnold P Gold Foundation inducted 45 students and four faculty members into the Gold Humanism Honor Society on the campus of The University of North Texas H...Read more

Jun 15, 2021

John Licciardone Hsc Fort Worth Fc
eHealth interventions could help African-American patients in battle with chronic pain

By Steven Bartolotta The PRECISION Pain Research Registry at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth has identified important racial disparities in pain management that became more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its study recently published in the special COVID...Read more

Jun 14, 2021