An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Airman in the ER: Travis doctor saves hero Airman's life

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
By the 20th hour of her 30-hour shift, she had already operated on two gunshot victims, when the 911 call emanated into the emergency room.

Just 2 miles away, an ambulance rushed to transport a 23-year-old male suffering from multiple stab wounds to Sacramento's only Level 1 trauma center, located at UC Davis Medical Center.

"I had no idea who he was," she said. "He was just some guy who randomly got stabbed in Midtown. So we treated him like a guy who randomly got stabbed in Midtown."

The surgeon, Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Eleanor Curtis, a senior resident at the hospital's trauma center, and Dr. Garth Utter, an associate professor of surgery, prepared as the trauma team surveyed the still-conscious patient for injuries, which included a lacerated heart and collapsed lung. Within minutes, the team wheeled him upstairs for immediate surgery.

For the next six hours, a team of doctors, nurses and technicians attended to the young man. He required heart surgery, the mending of a collapsed lung and treatment for additional stab wounds to his liver and back, according to information released by his family.

It wasn't until Curtis left the operating room after sunrise that she heard whispers of news vans lining up outside the hospital and saw a police detail posted at the doors of the intensive care unit, preventing people from going in.

"I just thought it was bizarre," she said. "That was fairly odd to see."

Unbeknownst to the Air Force doctor, her early morning trauma patient was a fellow active-duty service member - Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone - and the incident that placed him on her operating table came only two months after Stone became an international hero for thwarting a potential terrorist attack on a train headed to Paris.

"I remember reading an article," Curtis said. "But it wasn't something I followed. I couldn't have picked him out of a crowd, much less as one of my trauma patients. When he arrived to the trauma center, he was just another patient we had a duty to care for."

Having spent the last five years as a resident at the Sacramento-based trauma center, Stone's injuries weren't extraordinary for Curtis. To her, the life-saving work she performed that night was routine, just part of the job that led her to join the Air Force in 2001.

Although assigned to David Grant USAF Medical Center here, Curtis spends about 11 months of the year at the UC Davis medical facility. She's part of DGMC's General Surgery Residency program, a joint venture with UC Davis since 2006.

Part of a six-year training program - five clinical years and one research year performed between postgraduate years three and four - the concept behind the program is to expose Air Force surgeons to environments where significant illnesses, injuries and trauma are much more common.

"(DGMC operates) primarily in a healthy environment," said Barbara Erickson, 60th Medical Group director of medical education and research. "The partnerships and relationships we've formed with UC Davis over the years have added invaluable value to the teams we have here and the teams we deploy around the world."

The goal is to train surgical leaders and equip residency graduates with the skills, clinical maturity and confidence to tackle the most complex surgical problems and offer the best care, according to UC Davis Medical Center.

"It just highlights the fact that we are part of their team," Erickson said. "When we go over there, we don't look any different than they are. Together we are providing first-class medical care both here and at UC Davis."

Stone was released Oct. 15 from UC Davis Medical Center after recovering from the incident that placed him in Curtis' trauma center a week prior.

"It's great to leave the hospital," Stone said. "Thanks very much to the first responders and the team here at UC Davis Medical Center for taking good care of me. Thanks to my amazing family and friends for their love and support. And, thanks to everyone who's sent encouragement during this challenging time. I'm focused on my healing and recovery and look forward to the next part of my journey."