Most physicians earn medical degrees in order to help people and improve lives.
Neal Weintraub, MD, Mabel Stearns Stonehill Chair of Cardiology and professor in the division of cardiovascular diseases, was no different—except he was helping patients long before he put an "MD” behind his name.
Weintraub received his initial glimpse of the medical field as a first responder in New Orleans.
When Weintraub applied for medical school as a 20-year-old undergraduate at Tulane University, he was also working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). He went on to obtain advanced EMT training, becoming a fully certified paramedic, and he worked in this field throughout four years of medical school.
"I had already applied to medical school when I began work as an EMT,” Weintraub says, adding that it was Norman McSwain Jr., MD, a professor of surgery at Tulane and the director of trauma at the affiliated Charity Hospital and for the New Orleans Police Department, who really supported his "side job” and his tie to emergency medicine.
"I worked at least twice a week, always on the weekends—about 20 hours total on average—and I really gained an incredible amount of experience that supplemented my medical school education.”
Working with the New Orleans Police Department, Weintraub delivered a breech baby in the field, without any obstetrics instruments, and was one of the first responders called to a large refinery explosion. He also worked a major airplane crash in Jefferson Parish that claimed the lives of 156 people. He received commendations from the city for his actions on each of those days.
"Once, I almost died,” he recalls. "Dispatch was called when a construction worker was down on the job. My partner and I raced to the scene, and when we got there, I grabbed the man to assess his level of consciousness. I instantly felt a strong electrical current running through me.”
Weintraub knew there was a live electrical wire but could not locate it. He says the man had stepped on a high-voltage wire that was obscured by a puddle of water.
"I was able to separate myself, grab a shovel and pull him off the wire without becoming electrocuted, but unfortunately the worker did not survive. That was quite a scary memory for me—something I’ll never forget.”
But even more than giving Weintraub the medical experience that has helped him become the physician he is today, he says his time as a first responder really led to deep respect for emergency medicine and the role of EMTs.
"These are the people who are in the trenches every day—the ones who get called to the scene and who act quickly to make it as easy as possible for physicians like me to do my job,” he says. "They often don’t get the credit they truly deserve.”
These experiences also encouraged him to form a strong affiliation with the emergency medicine department at UC and UC Health University Hospital in regard to both patient care and research initiatives.
"I have mentored some of the faculty in the department [of emergency medicine],” Weintraub says. "Cardiology is closely tied to emergency medicine. It’s very important to have strong collaboration so that we can work together to provide efficient, timely and superb care, as well as advance our understanding of disease. I admire my fellow physicians in that department as well as the men and women who serve as first responders.
"I’m honored to share that tie with them.”
On Dec. 8, 2011, Weintraub was involved in a reunion at Cincinnati Fire Station 29 involving patient Deloris Casey, 66, and a life-saving team of first responders from the Cincinnati Fire Department as well as UC Health Air Care & Mobile Care.
The reunion was special because on Sept. 3, this team worked collaboratively to save Casey’s life, using CPR and a defibrillator to shock her heart 13 times after she suffered a massive heart attack. She was eventually transported via helicopter to University Hospital, where the blockage causing her heart attack was treated, and was then cared for by a multidisciplinary team of cardiologists and critical care specialists in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.
Casey was unconscious for over an hour while she suffered repeated cardiac arrests and had no measurable blood pressure, leaving doctors to believe that she would endure extensive brain damage and never recover fully.
"Initially, Ms. Casey was given very little chance for survival, much less recovery, given the prolonged nature of her cardiac arrest,” says Weintraub. "Miraculously, she has fully recovered and is very interested in thanking those who saved her life.
"This story illustrates the importance of not giving up when attempting to revive patients who suffer cardiac arrest outside of the hospital setting, despite the odds. It also illustrates the power of combining excellent care in the community with the expertise of UC Health to save patients like Ms. Casey and return them to their lives and families.”