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Treating the Troops

Treating the TroopsA trauma surgeon at a United States military hospital in Germany, Dr. Stephen Flaherty (A'84, M'88) says he is building a strong connection with the soldiers he treats.

Boston [05.07.07] Dr. Stephen Flaherty (A'84, M'88) admits that he has tough days on the job. The U.S. Army trauma surgeon recently told The Boston Globe that the most difficult part of his work is telling soldiers about the severity of their injuries. "They want to hear that everything's going to be OK. They want hear they'll be whole like they were before," he told the newspaper. "We have to tell them that things are going to be different."

At Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center—the largest U.S. military hospital in Europe—the medical staff has had plenty of experience caring for wounded troops. According to the Globe, the facility takes in an average of 25 patients each day and has seen 38,000 wounded soldiers over the past five years.

Flaherty, who has worked at the hospital since August, explained to the Globe that many of the injuries he treats would have killed soldiers in past wars. "He has been struck by the fact that his severely wounded patients are surviving their injuries," the newspaper reported. "Eighty-five percent of those wounded in battle have had arms or legs pierced by bullets, shredded by shrapnel or blown off by mortar fire. Some veterans return home with only one limb or with burns over 80 percent of their bodies."

Asking his patients about pain, Flaherty said, is a delicate matter.

"They don't want to admit it;that's part of the nature of young soldiers," he told the Globe. "You have to let them know that it's OK to hurt."

Flaherty, who has been a trauma surgeon for the U.S. Army for about two decades, explained that building a connection with his patients is an important piece of his work. At Landstuhl, he told the Globe, his bonds with patients run deeper than any he has experienced before.

"These guys were all [hurt] doing the right thing for our country and, I believe, for the world," he told the Globe. "That makes you want to take care of them."

While Flaherty's passion for his profession now flourishes, there was a time—shortly before the September 11 terrorist attacks—when the doctor, who earned an undergraduate degree from Tufts in 1984 and an M.D. from Tufts School of Medicine in 1988, questioned the next step in his career.

"Flaherty was ready to quit the Army. With only peace on the political horizon, the career trauma surgeon foresaw little professional future with the service," the newspaper reported about the surgeon who had 13 years of military experience at that point.

According to the Globe, Flaherty completed his military training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, participated in a trauma fellowship at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) and held leadership positions at military hospitals in Texas and North Carolina.

The decision to remain in the Army after September 11 led Flaherty to Baghdad last year where he directed trauma care for Iraq and Afghanistan before going to Landstuhl, according to the newspaper.

With his wife and two children living with him in Germany, Flaherty—a Massachusetts native—told the Globe that he is again looking ahead at his next career move. Working for the Veterans Affairs Administration is a definite possibility, he explained.

"I never saw myself as a VA surgeon," he told the Globe, "but the more time I spend with these guys and anticipating their further care, the more I think maybe I could be one, after all."

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