Cowley's mark in medicine

More notable Marylanders

October 27, 1999|By John W. Ashworth III

Over the past three months, The Sun's editorial page has published its Marylanders of the Century series -- profiles of 21 people who made key contributions to the community and society. We also asked readers to contribute their own Marylanders of note. Here is a selection of the responses we received:

CERTAINLY no list of Marylanders of the 20th century would be complete without Dr. R Adams Cowley, who built one of the country's first and most complete trauma systems, with the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland at its core -- an international role model for 500 trauma centers worldwide.

The medical pioneer developed his theory of the "golden hour" -- the all-important first hour after injury when the care that victims receive dramatically affects their chance of survival.

Cowley envisioned a system (based on MASH units in the Korean War), where medical personnel at an accident scene would stabilize critically ill patients, then quickly transport them to a shock trauma center for specialized care.

A native of Utah, Cowley came here as a medical student at the University of Maryland. He left only for a brief stint as a military doctor in Europe right after World War II.

After his return to Baltimore, Cowley became a successful heart surgeon. In 1956, however, troubled by patients who died after undergoing successful surgery, he started studying the effects of shock on survival rates in animals and in humans.

He opened what would become the forerunner to the shock trauma unit in University Hospital in 1961; it consisted of two beds, where he studied and treated dying patients. In 1969, under Cowley's tenacious leadership, the hospital opened a five-story Center for the Study of Trauma.

Maryland State Police officials were early supporters (their helicopters began flying MedEvac transport missions in 1969), but many others were not as open to change. Cowley battled hospital administrators, physicians, ambulance and volunteer fire companies and politicians throughout the state to make his vision a reality.

Finally, in 1973, Gov. Marvin Mandel signed an executive order creating the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medicine and a state Division of Emergency Medical Services. Cowley became director of both. (The two programs later merged into the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.)

Cowley demanded loyalty, hard work and a high degree of skill from those he worked with. He could be critical of those who did not measure up to his standards. But his successes are difficult to argue with.

When Cowley opened the first shock trauma center, only 40 percent of accident victims survived; today the survival rate is nearly 96 percent.

The center leads the way not only in finding new and better treatments for shock trauma victims, but also in developing programs for preventing accidents.

In 1989, the state opened the eight-story, state-of-the-art trauma center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Thousands of lives have been saved. Cowley, who died in 1991, truly deserves to be remembered as a key Marylander of the century.

John W. Ashworth III is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center and director of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

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