Trauma team participates in practice training

RRUCLA Trauma Team Prepared for All Patients, Even Astronauts

As a Level 1 Trauma Center, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (RRUCLA) routinely receives patients who have sustained life-threatening injuries from car and motorcycle collisions, falls and other serious accidents or assaults. While the RRUCLA trauma staff is prepared at all times to provide comprehensive emergency medical services to trauma patients from across the Southern California region, the team recently honed its skills in preparation for a special group of patients that may arrive from much farther away: astronauts from outer space.

For more than 20 years, RRUCLA has been one of two Level 1 trauma hospitals in the region designated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to provide immediate emergency and comprehensive medical care for National Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle) crew members injured as result of an accident during landing at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB). Edwards AFB, located in the Antelope Valley about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is a secondary landing site when the Space Shuttle is unable to land at Kennedy Space Center due to inclement weather conditions in Florida. If an accident were to occur during a Space Shuttle landing at Edwards AFB, Department of Defense (DoD) emergency personnel would stabilize injured crew members before transporting them via helicopter to RRUCLA for continued treatment that, in addition to emergency medicine, may include internal medicine, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedics or hyperbaric medicine services.

“Fortunately, there have been no incidents so far that have required us to provide emergency medical assistance to the Space Shuttle crew,” says Ann Munnelly, pre-hospital care coordinator, RRUCLA Emergency Department. “But astronauts have specialized medical issues related to the Space Shuttle that we need to be prepared to handle, and the best way to do that is through consistent education and drilling.”

Every one to two years, the DoD hosts a four-hour education session for RRUCLA trauma staff to provide information about planned missions and to ensure the trauma team is aware of potential physiological changes or problems that may be experienced by the astronauts, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, metabolic changes and possible chemical/radiation exposure. The staff also participates in emergency transport simulations with Space Shuttle crew and DoD emergency staff, which includes learning how to efficiently remove a space suit.

“We consider it an honor to be a designated Trauma Center for these distinguished astronauts who need comprehensive care when they are in our area,” says Janet Rimicci, R.N., M.S.N., director, Emergency and Trauma Services, RRUCLA. “Under the leadership of Gill Cryer, M.D., the team works hard at perfecting trauma care. We want our astronauts to receive the best quality of care, and we feel UCLA can provide the quality they deserve.”