By Mr. Ramin Khalili, Army MedicineAugust 22, 2019
Just a few minutes after retired Army Ranger Sgt. Oliver Campbell took the stage on the first day of the 2019 Military Health System Research Symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, he delivered what may, eventually, turn into the most memorable line of the entire event.
"I never truly understood the finality of death," he said, "until death came for me."
As a survivor of nearly unimaginable pain and circumstance, Campbell's presence alone is a testament to the importance of military medicine and all its associated entities. In January 2016, he sustained five gunshot wounds --suffering two to the chest-- during maneuvers with his unit in Afghanistan; an injury which ruptured his pulmonary vein and, later on, eventually stopped his heart. Following an immediate trip to the hospital at Bagram Airfield, he was transferred to a facility in Germany before finally being sent back home to the U.S.
"Ultimately," said Campbell of the military surgical team that saved him, "it was the right people coming together at the right time in the right place."
In many ways, that viewpoint crystalizes the reasoning for the existence of the MHSRS, an event which has long been considered the crown jewel of the military medical research world -- an annual event where clinicians, academics, and industry experts can meet to share emerging research and forge new partnerships to pursue common goals.
"This is truly the kind of story that brings us together," said Col. Todd Rasmussen, Associate Dean for Research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, of Campbell's experiences.
For his part, Rasmussen served as the moderator for Campbell's address, a mid-morning speech to a crowd of more than 3,000 people, many of whom were in attendance specifically to hear remarks from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery and Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono, the Director of the Defense Health Agency. Yet just as McCaffery focused on the key medical achievements of the U.S. military over the past several years, and Bono --in kind-- focused on the challenges facing military medicine on the future battlefield, Campbell's remarks served as the white-hot intersection of those two worlds; the point at which new medical breakthroughs are required in order to balance the threats posed by emerging adversaries and situations.
"In short, I received the second chance that so many never got," said Campbell, in a succinct-yet-touching summary of his experiences.
Immediately following his injuries back in 2016, surgeons wearing night-vision goggles inserted a pair of tubes into Campbell's heart and, upon failing to resuscitate him, eventually cut open his chest and massaged his heart manually until he could receive better, more comprehensive care.
And so perhaps it is that very experience that drives Campbell even today. The San Marino, California, native is studying to be a trauma surgeon in order to --in his own words-- cobble together some type of honorary repayment to the people who gave his own life back to him just a few short years ago.
Said Rasmussen during an extended standing ovation following Campbell's speech, "If all of us aren't standing up and thinking about how to save the lives of people like this -- then shame on us, right?"