Shock Trauma doctor is `saint' on the scene when an officer falls

The Surgeon

December 13, 2006|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN REPORTER

The surgeon received the message on his pager before daybreak: Trooper shot.

A horrible but not unheard-of message for the chief of surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who insists on being notified whenever a police officer or other first- responder falls in the line of duty.

But then a nurse called to tell Dr. Thomas M. Scalea more: The victim was Tfc. Eric D. Workman, a man he had befriended eight years ago after Workman ended up on his operating table. The trooper had been struck and nearly killed by a car while on duty in 1998.

Scalea raced to the emergency room yesterday. "I walked in, and Eric was still awake," Scalea said, recalling the early morning scene. "He looked at me and said, `You're here, I know it will be OK.'"

Workman was shot when a gunbattle erupted as he and other officers tried to arrest a man suspected of a home invasion in Carroll County.

Workman was wearing a protective vest, but a bullet struck him in the armpit, hit a lung and kidney, then became lodged in his abdomen.

Scalea operated on Workman twice yesterday - shortly after the shooting and again in the afternoon to stop bleeding in his chest. He said the 36-year-old trooper was on life support.

The top surgeon in one of the country's premier trauma centers, Scalea is revered in the tight law enforcement community. He is known for his skill in the operating room and his ability to gently and succinctly deliver updates to family, police officials and the public. In many cases, he forms a personal bond with the officers he treats.

Paul Blair, the head of the Baltimore police union, referred to Scalea as "the walking saint. ... If we get hurt and we are lucky enough to go to Shock Trauma, he will treat us. No matter where he is, he will take care of us."

Edward T. Norris, the former Baltimore police commissioner, called him "a miracle worker." And Leonard D. Hamm, the current city police commissioner, said: "We can't do enough for him."

Up the ladder

Scalea grew up in upstate New York. He graduated from the University of Virginia and then attended the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He worked for 15 years at King's County Hospital in Brooklyn before coming to Baltimore.

Now he sits atop a group of 50 physicians at Shock Trauma. This year, the center estimates that 7,200 patients will pass though its doors. Every time one of those people happens to be a police officer, a paramedic or a firefighter, Scalea makes every effort to be the one who treats them.

"I feel very much a part of who they are," Scalea said. "They go and put their lives on the line every day; we put it on the line every day, just in a different way."

Blair said the doctor was there when Officer Barry W. Wood was killed as the police helicopter he was piloting crashed at the B&O Railroad Museum in 1998.

"He takes it as bad as the family member takes it," Blair said. "When he says his words out front, it isn't just for the press, it is directly from the heart."

The union head said Scalea stayed in touch with the families of officers that he could not save.

Hamm recalled that when Officer Donte Hemingway was shot in Westport in March, Scalea took extra care to explain the complicated medical procedure.

"That was a particularly difficult operation because that bullet hit so many vital organs in my officer," Hamm said. "He didn't panic. He kept us in the loop every step of the way.

"He takes the time to explain to us what is going on. He does it in a way that he doesn't make us seem like idiots."

Honor the fallen

Scalea attends police funerals and goes to an annual ceremony at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens to honor fallen officers. He said he considers attending these events part of his job.

Scalea also is a familiar face to the public. He is the one who comes out - often in his surgical scrubs - to brief the news media when an officer is injured. He sometimes holds up charts to the television cameras to help explain the patient's condition and treatment.

At yesterday's briefing, he referenced his relationship with Workman: "I consider him a good friend in addition to a fabulous law enforcement officer." Recalling treating the trooper in 1998, Scalea said: "I can't tell you how sorry I am to be in this position again."

In the earlier incident, Workman was standing on the shoulder of the Capital Beltway's outer loop helping to flag down speeding cars when he was struck. The impact sent him 60 feet through the air, and he landed on top of another officer, according to an account in The Washington Post.

Workman suffered broken bones and an injured spleen, but he recovered. He was known to show off his scars to other officers on the force.

Workman became so close to his doctor that he invited Scalea to his wedding.

More recently, Scalea was there to be consulted when Workman's mother became sick. Every few months, Workman would stop by the hospital to "shoot the breeze." His last social visit was a few weeks ago.

But when Scalea got the call yesterday that his friend's life was in danger again, he said he didn't pause.

"At that point, I was focused on a job," he said. "The first job was get to the hospital. The emotions ... you don't let them play until later."

Sun reporter Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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