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Britain Opens New Trauma Research Center

Car crash survivor Dawn Pickett, who had both of her arms and legs shattered seven years ago, does her rehab after doctors were able to save her limbs, thanks to experience from Afghanistan and Iraq, February 2011

Britain’s military doctors have pioneered new techniques to save soldiers gravely wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the lessons learned will be brought together in a new research center at a hospital in the British city of Birmingham. The center hopes to benefit both wounded soldiers and civilians.

A British soldier wounded in Afghanistan recovers in a hospital in Birmingham, in central England. Treating traumatic injuries like his has changed the face of hospital care in Britain

A car crash seven years ago left Dawn Pickett fighting for her life, both arms and legs shattered. Doctors were able to save her limbs, thanks to experience from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I’ve benefited from what they’ve learned out there," said Pickett. "And now that information, those techniques will then be able to pass it on to anybody, civilians or military.”

Dr. Keith Porter, who supervised Pickett’s care, said, “Many changes have resulted from the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

So Britain’s health and defense ministries are opening a new joint trauma research center to capitalize on what medical personnel have learned on the battlefield. In Afghanistan, gunshot and blast injuries are the most common. Military doctors say survival rates for British soldiers in Afghanistan can be better than for civilians here in Britain.

“Over the last decade we have seen patients survive wounds of escalating magnitude and these are not wounds that you would see in normal civilian practice,” said Porter.

Quick reaction times, stopping bleeding quickly and stabilizing a patient in the field are all credited with saving soldiers. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is the first stopping point for wounded forces. The nurses in green are in the military - and work side by side with civilians here.

Britain’s chief medical officer, Dr. Sally Davies, said both sides have things to teach. “We’ve already learned from the military how to use tourniquets again in the civilian trauma situation to save lives. So there’s cross learning and there’s research already started.”

Davies said in emergency situations doctors already take a military approach, and she hopes the new collaboration will better prepare Britain if there is another terrorist attack, like the 2005 subway and bus bombings.

And Britain’s top military doctor said the center is just the beginning.

“As this is the UK’s first and only trauma center for research, it’s going to be the catalyst for a much wider network,” said Vice Admiral Philip Raffaelli, British Forces Surgeon General.

Just as the soldiers work together in Afghanistan, Britain hopes to share its research with the United States, Canada and other NATO allies.

The new research facility aims to solidify the already longstanding medical cooperation between the military and civilians here with an aim to creating new procedures to save more lives.