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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 01/02/01
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC Surgeon Accompanies President Clinton to Southeast Asia

Cincinnati--Jay Johannigman, MD, associate professor of surgery, Division of Trauma and Critical Care at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, served as the designated surgeon on President Clinton's visit to Southeast Asia recently.

Lieutenant General Paul Carlton, Jr., Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force Medical Service, selected Johannigman to be a part of a supplemental medical team that went to Vietnam to provide provisional medical care for President Clinton on his 10-day trip. Johannigman served in the Air Force and remains a member of the active Air Force Reserves.

"It was the experience of a lifetime," Johannigman said. "It was great to see the country of Vietnam and to experience what goes into a presidential trip. It was also a great military experience to work alongside my active duty colleagues."

The White House Medical Unit, comprised of physicians and nurses who care for the president, are joined by a special Air Force Medical Team, SPEARR (Small Portable Expedition Aeromedical Rapid Response team), whenever the president travels to a remote country. SPEARR comprises a five-person surgical unit and a three-person critical care transport unit. The five-member surgical unit consists of a surgeon (Johannigman), orthopedic surgeon, emergency medicine physician, anesthesiologist and an operating room (OR) technician. The critical care transport unit has the capability of moving a critically ill patient onboard Air Force One.

"Within an hour of meeting each other, the SPEARR team knew what positions and what roles we were going to play," Johannigman said. "They know their jobs so well that although we came from different Air Force Bases in Texas, Mississippi, Maryland and Ohio, I had no doubts if we had been pressed to do anything, that we would have been able to take care of the patients." The team, stationed in President Clinton's hotel, set up a full operating room in an adjacent hotel suite where two medical professionals were stationed in the room at all times and even slept there in case an emergency situation arose.

"Our purpose was simply to provide additional surgical care," Johannigman said. "The idea is that we can walk into any circumstance and within 30 minutes have an OR set up and be capable of performing in a surgical emergency. That's why the White House wanted us along."

According to Johannigman, his military experiences influence the direction of his medical career. Johannigman accepted a military scholarship in order to afford medical school. "A number of medical students are in the military scholarship program," he said. "If you can't afford medical school, military scholarships are one way to pay for it. This medical center has a very proud tradition of serving in the Reserves."

After his residency training at UC, he spent four years on active duty in the Air Force from 1990-1994 before returning to the university as faculty.

"My military experiences are complementary to what I do as a civilian," he said. "Being a trauma surgeon in the civilian world I don't see some of the things I have seen in the military. For example, I've operated inside a tent in Bosnia, which is different to what I am accustomed to in the trauma bay at The University Hospital." Johannigman also spent four months of his active duty serving in the Gulf War.

Johannigman has a unique opportunity to draw from an abundance of resources for medical information.

"I see equipment that we are looking at using in the military that we have not yet seen on the civilian side, and vice versa. I can show the military the tools that I'm seeing in my civilian practice that they have not yet seen. I would not trade that opportunity for the world," he said.

President Clinton's mission abroad focused on the exploration of the Crash Recovery Site in Vietnam, an hour outside of the city of Hanoi. The Crash Recovery Site is the historical area where aircrafts and bodies of American pilots were never recovered or crashes were never confirmed at the time of the Vietnam War.

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