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Cadavers key to paramedics' rescue training

Pararescue Jumpers from 103rd Rescue Squardron learn how

Pararescue Jumpers from 103rd Rescue Squardron learn how to perform a fasciotomy on a cadaver during a medical training session where intubation and other medical emergency procedure are needed. (June 22, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The six cadavers lay stretched out on tables, their faces obscured by bandages.

"Everybody's going to get a limb," said Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, an Air Force flight surgeon. "Arms are fair game."

With that, his audience of Air Force search-and-rescue specialists picked up their scalpels and got to work.

Rush, the doctor attached to the Air Force's 103rd Rescue Squadron in Westhampton Beach, was supervising a rare opportunity for his unit's troops: a surgical training session on real human bodies at North Shore-LIJ Center for Advanced Medicine in Lake Success. In a crash course Friday, the specialists received hands-on training in a full battery of surgical and lifesaving procedures -- from amputation to intubation, a technique used to open a patient's airway.

It wasn't always pretty. As one of the supervising North Shore-LIJ doctors put it as he used an unorthodox technique to make an incision during a demonstration: "What I'm doing right now is not a surgical principle."

But it doesn't have to be, Rush said. The daylong session was designed to help specialists perform better during a crisis, he said, such as getting "someone out of a burning vehicle or collapsed building."

The 103rd's specialists -- known as pararescue jumpers -- are all registered paramedics whose work can take them behind enemy lines to respond to explosions or gunshot wounds.

Typically, their training is limited to simulations with plastic dummies, and ride-alongs in ambulances.

But "there are certain things you can't simulate," said Capt. Chris Baker, a combat rescue officer with the unit. And that's where the cadavers come in.

"This is obviously the closest thing you can come to working with a [live] human being," he said.

Friday's session is one of several offered by North Shore-LIJ, thanks to a partnership with Rush and his unit. A few NYPD and FBI specialists also participated.

The hospital charges the Air Force a reduced rate for the course, according to Dr. Jason D'Amore, who led the session with Rush.

North Shore-LIJ provides the cadavers, which were donated to science, lab technician Brianne Berner said.

"They're all fresh-frozen specimens," she said. "No formaldehyde, no nothing."

Dr. Matthew Bank, a trauma surgeon at the hospital, began the session with a quick demonstration of an escharotomy -- a procedure to treat burns.

The jumpers spent 15 more minutes watching Bank demonstrate another technique before fanning out to try it themselves. Amputations were covered in about half an hour.

It wasn't medical school, but it was enough, Rush said.

"It's the level they need to be able to do it," he said. "They save lives on a regular basis."

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