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Hospital's Trauma Center hailed

February 27, 1998

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Princess Diana would have had a better chance of survival had her car wreck happened in Hagerstown, claims Dr. Marc E. Kross, trauma director at Washington County Hospital.

"Everyone laughs at me when I say that, but I'm telling you she might have lived," Kross said.

Washington County Hospital was designated a Level II Trauma Center in January by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

Only about 10 rural hospitals in the country have received such a high level of certification, Kross said. Most Level II centers are in metropolitan areas.

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It means that 24 hours a day the hospital has a surgeon ready to treat the victim of a car accident, attempted murder or other serious jolt to their body.

"We can kind of full-court press, jump on them right away," Kross said. "We feel very comfortable and confident about our ability to take care of severely injured patients."

Along with surgeons, there are radiologists, anesthesiologists and emergency room nurses on call around the clock.

"There'd be 10 people in this room in two seconds," said Kross, standing next to machines that can breathe for people and pump them quickly full of life-saving blood.

Kross estimates that the hospital's trauma center could prevent 30 to 50 deaths a year.

Britain's Princess Diana, who died in a Paris car wreck in August, might have been saved if she had been in Hagerstown, Kross said.

She would have reached the hospital much sooner than she did and doctors at Washington County would have been prepared, he said.

The Trauma II designation means that fewer accident victims have to make the 40- to 60-minute trip by helicopter to the University of Maryland shock trauma unit, he said.

Family members can be closer to their loved ones as they recover, he said.

Washington County Hospital sees about 50,000 patients a year in the emergency room.

Of those, about 450 are victims of trauma, which is the leading cause of death for people up to age 45.

A car wreck is the most common cause of trauma.

Recently, a man's heart was punctured by his own rib in a car accident. Open surgery at the hospital saved him, Kross said.

The hospital trauma center also saved a 20-year-old farm boy whose vehicle hit a tree head-on and a 32-year-old woman with serious pelvic fractures whose husband had been killed in the same wreck, he said.

"It's amazing what the human body can survive," he said.

Trauma surgeons like Kross also see bizarre accidents.

Recently, a man had a sewage hose impale his leg. He is walking today, Kross said.

The hospital also has to be prepared for VIP injuries because it covers the presidential retreat at nearby Camp David, said hospital spokesman John Costopoulos.

The hospital hasn't treated anyone in the Clinton Administration, but did see Barbara Bush when she broke her leg sledding in 1991.

The highest designation a hospital can have is Trauma I.

Washington County would need to become a teaching hospital and get a heart and lung bypass machine to be a Level I, he said. The nearest Level I hospitals are in Fairfax, Va., and York, Pa., he said.

The hospital's transition to Level II didn't take place overnight.

The hospital has been a regional trauma center since 1981.

About three years ago, the hospital added a sixth-floor rehabilitation center where trauma victims and other patients stay to recuperate.

Following national and state guidelines, the hospital had to develop procedures for treating trauma patients.

"It was a major accomplishment for the hospital. It took a major effort from everyone in the hospital," he said.

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