NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (Dec. 10, 2020) – Maj. Steven S. Hong, M.D. was awarded the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS) Individual Professional Physician Award at the Virtual AMSUS Annual Meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, held Dec. 6-10.
The AMSUS Annual Meeting is for military healthcare professionals and leaders to improve the effectiveness, cohesiveness, and esprit de corps of the federal healthcare services. This year’s meeting theme is, “Federal Health: A Global Vision Beginning in Your Community”.
At the event, Hong was recognized as a surgeon scientist and researcher, whose tireless efforts and natural curiosity led him, and his team of engineers and physicians to create a novel device to help combat the current global pandemic, the Covid-19 Airway Management Isolation Chamber (CAMIC).
Hong currently serves as the Chief of Head and Neck Oncologic and Reconstructive Surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and an assistant professor of surgery at
Uniformed Services University (USU) of the Health Sciences. He is also spearheading efforts at U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as the principal investigator of a multi-million dollar DoD grant to enable safe and effective robotic tele-surgery in austere and future operational environments as part of the U.S. Army’s Science and Technology Man/Machine Teaming and Medical Robotics.
The idea for CAMIC came when Hong was watching the COVID-19 crisis begin to unfold across the world earlier this year, specifically in Italy and New York City. He immediately recognized that the virus was very contagious, especially within his specialty of head and neck surgery. Hong and his team were often called upon to perform tracheostomies to improve patient recovery after prolonged periods of intubation. This procedure, although beneficial to the patient, increased the medical staff’s risk of exposure to contaminated aerosols. Due to the speed at which the virus was spreading, the severity of infection, and the lack of personal protection equipment, he began to explore alternative safeguarding measures.
Hong immediately began to assemble a team of diverse specialties who included: Army Capt. (Dr.) Timothy Blood, a USU alumnus and clinical teaching fellow, and an otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat, or ENT) resident at WRNMMC, Army Maj. (Dr.) Charles Riley, an assistant professor of surgery at USU and staff ENT surgeon at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital; Army Maj. (Dr.) Douglas Ruhl, assistant professor at USU and staff ENT surgeon at Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC); USU clinical teaching fellow and WRNMMC ENT resident Army Capt. (Dr.) Jonathan “Nate” Perkins; and Army 2nd Lt. Joseph Krivda, a second-year medical student at USU, Army Maj. (Dr.) Paul Wistermayer, an ENT resident at MAMC, and Mr. Nathan Fisher, an engineer from TATRC.
Under Hong’s lead, the team took CAMIC from concept to prototype within days and FDA emergency use authorization within 6 weeks. The device is an inexpensive barrier device that consists of a Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) hollow frame and a clear large plastic (polyethylene) bag that is placed over the head, neck, and shoulders of the patient to isolate airborne particulates.
The CAMIC captures and removes particles emitted from a patient's nose and mouth using a flow of medical air, which comes in through holes in the PVC frame on one side and is sucked out by a vacuum on the other. The CAMIC is authorized for use with hospital vacuum lines, as well as portable vacuum pumps with in-line High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.
Modeled and tested at Walter Reed and Madigan with computer modeling at the U.S. Army's Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center, the invention received emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration in May and has already been used in medical procedures within the MHS and civilian medical sector.
“This invention has a major impact on patient care and the safety of healthcare workers which extends across the MHS and worldwide. His foresight to patent the device and distribute the instructions worldwide to ensure widest availability is emblematic of his selfless service and undying commitment to patient care and safety,” said Col. Daniel J. Gallagher, MD, who nominated him for the award.
“The thing that really touched and really told us the significance of our project was hearing back from people that were deployed, that this was being used out in theater, especially because they didn’t have great alternatives out there. Hearing one of the trauma surgeons reaching back to say that they were able to use the CAMIC or something very similar to the CAMIC to be able to treat one of the COVI-19 patients there was really uplifting for us”, Hong said.
Hong and his team are certain that, although we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic now, the military will be called on in the future to battle other pandemics. The goal is to develop a more operational-friendly CAMIC that could be used downrange, for transport of infectious patients, and as a quasi-negative pressure device to reduce the need for an entire negative pressure room.
“The heroes for me during the last months are my teammates, my resident staff, and lastly the patients. The people I treat are cancer patients which is already an incredibly difficult journey, a very lonesome journey, and because of what happened it’s been even more lonely than normal.” Hong said, referring to the visitor restrictions at medical facilities due to the pandemic.
He went on to say, “they’ve done so remarkably and have been so understanding throughout this entire process with the additional barriers we’ve had to put up. I will forever be grateful to them and my teammates”.