Watch and read personal stories from physicians and patients about the importance of having a physician anesthesiologist present during medical procedures when seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Have your own When Seconds Count™ story?
Share your Story
Patient Kathleen Callahan worked with her physician anesthesiologist after still suffering with chronic pain despite being on a high dose of opioids.
18-year-old Hunter Jones avoided potential surgery complications
Decisive Action Saves Gunshot Victim
Quest for Knowledge Drives Nurse to Earn Medical Degree
Education and Experience Make the Difference for Bleeding Patient
Expert Diagnosis Saves Auto Accident Victim With Collapsed Lungs
Brain Surgery Puts a Baby’s Life in the Balance
Buckets of Ice Poured to Protect Seizure Patient
Mother Gets a Second Chance at Life
Spinal Cord Stimulator Helps Chronic Pain Patient Return to Normal Life
Tough Call Stops a Surgery, Saves a Life
Moltu Guy, M.D.
Madison, WI - University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics
As physician anesthesiologists, we make difficult and potentially life-saving decisions every day, usually during surgery. But sometimes, we make the tough calls moments before surgery begins.
I recently met with an elderly woman who needed surgery to treat life-threatening lung cancer. What I discovered during this routine pre-op meeting, was just as serious.
My patient suffered from heart disease and had experienced multiple heart attacks, some as recently as a few months before. She also was taking several prescription medicines, which can cause problems during surgery. I felt the surgery could be safely performed as long as my patient followed my specific instructions about which medications to take, and not take the morning of the surgery. I called her the night before to remind her.
On the day of the surgery, the patient’s son took me aside. “Mom doesn’t remember what medication she took today,” he said. I questioned my patient and she reluctantly admitted that she had forgotten what I’d told her and took all of her medications.
I knew then I had a tough call to make. Although it was critically important to treat my patient’s spreading lung cancer, moving forward would place her life in even greater jeopardy. My patient went home and returned a few weeks later, properly prepared for a successful surgery.
When Seconds Count, it takes a physician to understand and properly advocate for the safest and highest quality outcomes for the patient, even if it means delaying a procedure.
Learn more about preparing for surgery.
Share your When Seconds Count story, where you benefitted from the education and training of a physician anesthesiologist.
Read more When Seconds Count stories.
Quick Action Saves Three Lives and Earns a Hug
Jeff Berger, M.D., M.B.A.
Physician Anesthesiologist, Washington, D.C.
As a doctor, there’s nothing more rewarding than answering a call that results in a life saved, unless of course you’re confronted with the following situation…
As a physician anesthesiologist, I’m always on call for my patients while I’m in the hospital on the Labor and Delivery Unit. On this particular day, I answered a call for an emergency C-section for a mom-to-be who was unconscious and struggling to breathe. The seriousness of the situation was made clear to me, not only by the patient’s appearance, but also by the army of medical personnel standing by to help her– obstetrician, neonatologist, pediatric nurse practitioner, midwife and resident.
I had seconds to decide how best to help this patient as I was alerted that there was no discernible heart beat for the baby. I called upon all of my experience to instinctively check her vital signs and safely insert a tube into her trachea so that she could breathe. Partnering with the physician obstetrician, I gave the nod that signaled permission to begin the operation and stood by to continue to vigilantly monitor mom and baby.
The baby was rapidly delivered and let out a healthy cry. As the team turned its attention back to the mother, the obstetrician’s next words put us back on high alert, “There’s another baby!”
After the second baby was delivered, anticipation grew as I contemplated a question – had I acted quickly enough at the outset to prevent the patient from experiencing permanent brain damage from inadequate breathing? As mom opened her eyes and her family filled her in on the story, I finally allowed myself a satisfied smile. However, there was yet one more surprise awaiting me – a big hug from the twins’ new grandparents. Perhaps there is something better than saving a life – saving three!
When Seconds Count…
After a debilitating accident, Alanna thought her days as an artist were over. Pain specialist and physician anesthesiologist Dr. Razzak gave her back the ability to use her hand.
I always wanted to be an artist. I went to school, studied art, fell in love, got married, and started a flourishing career publishing my work and receiving recognition with a few awards. That all changed in 2008, when I fell on a piece of ice, broke my arm and tore the muscle in my forearm that controls hand movement.
That all changed in 2008, when I fell on a piece of ice, broke my arm and tore the muscle in my forearm that controls hand movement. I was in tremendous pain for many, many months.
As my injuries healed, I was still left with a lot of residual pain and my quality of life hit a low point. I couldn’t paint, sculpt or carve. I kept dropping my tools and it was difficult for me to work on a computer. My days as an artist were over, and my skillset was dwindling.
I tried everything. Physical therapy had minimal effects. An orthopedic surgeon treated me with shots for short-term pain relief, but I still couldn’t lift anything. That’s when I was referred to a physician anesthesiologist.
Pain specialist and physician anesthesiologist Ashraf Razzak, M.D. reviewed my medical records, issued new MRIs and a study to evaluate the function of my nerves. He then created a pain management plan for me. Dr. Razzak identified a bulging disc in my neck that was putting pressure on my spinal cord and causing numbness and weakness in my right arm. On my second visit, Dr. Razzak gave me a spinal epidural injection, whichhe inserted directly into the bulging disc. The relief was nearly instantaneous. I felt like I could move freely in my body for the first time in years.
Dr. Razzak’s epidural treatment plan spanned two months. After two more epidural injections, I regained more strength in my hand and the pain was almost completely gone. Two years later, I produced an award-winning painting.
My physician anesthesiologist gave me back my hand, my life and my passion. Because of his expertise in pain management, I can do what I love again.
Helped Ensure Transplant Patient Gets Gift of Life
Elena Koepke, M.D., M.B.A.
Resident Physician Anesthesiologist, Dallas, Texas
After more than a year on a waiting list, a 60-year-old-man with a genetic lung disease was getting the gift of life – a new pair of lungs – transplanted into his body. It was early in the morning and I was an anesthesiologist resident and part of a medical team that included a physician anesthesiologist and a highly experienced surgeon who had performed hundreds of similar procedures.
Several hours into the surgery with the new lungs working and the patient doing well, everything changed. The patient started bleeding heavily from the chest and it was determined that a vein had been nicked during the procedure.
The physician anesthesiologist alerted the team that the patient’s blood pressure was dropping and he was at risk of going into shock and dying. The surgeon turned to the physician anesthesiologist and asked, “What’s the plan?” And our fast, expert response ensured that this transplant patient didn’t lose the chance to use his long-awaited gift. While the surgeon worked to repair the bleed and complete the surgery, we ordered more blood and monitored the patient to make sure he survived.
The wait for a donated organ can be years, but in surgery, it’s often seconds that count.
Gave Child with Cancer Second Chance at Life
Richard Banchs, M.D.
Physician Anesthesiologist, Chicago
It was supposed to be a routine procedure. But minutes into the operation, things went terribly wrong. The patient’s blood pressure plunged, and she began bleeding profusely. The surgeon called on the anesthesia care team — two residents and me — for emergency support.
We had seconds, and every second counted. We immediately gave the patient blood and performed a number of procedures to resuscitate and stabilize her. The surgeon completed the operation, and the patient survived.
Her name is Nora. She’s 9 years old.
She’s a beautiful little girl with big brown eyes and an engaging smile who had been to see her doctor after she’d fallen. During the exam, the doctor discovered a lump in Nora’s tummy. The surgery was to remove a tiny piece of tissue for a biopsy. Sadly, the results came back positive. Nora has cancer.
Nora is receiving chemotherapy and looking forward to getting better and getting on with being a kid — something that might not be happening if a team of physician anesthesiologists hadn’t been ready when a routine procedure turned into a life-threatening emergency.
Expertise Manages Risky Health Condition During Surgery
Christopher Cook, D.O.
Physician Anesthesiologist, Beaumont, Texas
My patient was a 60-year-old grandfather who needed surgery to repair his shoulder. But this wasn’t just a
routine procedure. My patient had another severe health condition that made it risky for him to have the
total shoulder replacement that his surgeon recommended.
My patient suffered from profound sleep apnea, which causes a person to momentarily stop breathing while
asleep. As a physician anesthesiologist, I knew that my patient’s sleep apnea could be made significantly
worse and even be life threatening by administering general anesthesia and “morphine-like” pain
medications. Although we have the education, training and expertise to intervene in a crisis during surgery
when seconds count, we much prefer to avoid these emergencies in the first place.
So I drew on another area of my training and expertise that’s part of a physician anesthesiologist’s intensive
education: specialized acute pain management. During the consultation with my patient, I explained an
effective alternative technique called regional anesthesia. For this type of anesthesia I would use ultrasound
guidance to perform a nerve block and insert a continuous nerve infusion catheter to my patient’s shoulder.
This would allow me to administer “lidocaine like” local anesthetic medications that numb the area and can
safely be used in patients with sleep apnea without affecting their breathing.
Although I couldn’t cure my patient’s sleep apnea, I could assess and manage it tremendously, reducing his
risk. He had an uneventful and successful surgery. I monitored and controlled his pain with the nerve
catheter for the 48 hours after the operation, and now his shoulder is back in shape.
Local Anesthetic and Handholding Help Keep Patient Breathing
Steven Dale Boggs, M.D.
Physician Anesthesiologist, Bronxville, NY
I had just walked into my office when the ER called to tell me that they had a patient who took a medication that was making his wind pipe close. I immediately gathered all my equipment to do a fiberoptic intubation, a procedure that allows us to put a breathing tube in without surgery.
I told them to take him to the operating room and I immediately called the OR nurses and alerted them to have the room ready in case we needed to do a tracheostomy – a surgical procedure to cut a hole in his throat. I also called a throat surgeon to be available for backup if necessary.
When I got to the OR it was not a good situation. The patient was an elderly veteran who was morbidly obese. I couldn’t give him any sedation because he might stop breathing. But I also was worried about him becoming more anxious so I asked the nurse to hold his hand to reassure him.
After we got the breathing tube in, we transferred him to the intensive care unit where they continued his care and treatment. We were prepared to do surgery if necessary but it would have been much harder on the patient and it would have required a longer hospital stay. Because of what we were able to do, he had the tube removed in a few days and returned home.
Advocates for Patient and Saves Her Life
Jennifer Leaf, MD
Physician Anesthesiologist, St. James City, Fla.
Becky came to our hospital after being diagnosed with lymphoma so she could have an IV inserted in her neck for chemotherapy. The plan was to place the IV while she was under general anesthesia.
I very quickly realized we needed a new plan.
Becky was about 30 years old. When I first saw her I was struck by how distressed she looked. She sat bolt upright on the stretcher and looked very uncomfortable. She was having a bit of trouble breathing. I talked with her and reviewed her scans and realized that her tumor had progressed quite a bit and she had become significantly worse in recent weeks.
I told the surgeon that general anesthesia was extremely dangerous and that if I used this type of anesthesia, Becky would stop breathing. And if she did, I didn’t think we could breathe for her because of the tumor pressing on her breathing tube. Instead, I suggested he place the IV in her groin using local anesthetic.
The surgeon disagreed with me. We debated for quite a while. I was adamant that I was not going to use general anesthesia for this patient. After about 30 minutes, he went and talked to one of my colleagues, another physician anesthesiologist, who agreed with me.
We decided that we would put the IV in her neck but we would use a local anesthetic and some sedation. We gave her just the tiniest amount of a sedative – the least amount possible - and she was wide awake the entire time, but within seconds the oxygen level in her blood dropped and it took us 10 minutes to get it back to normal. The procedure was stopped and the surgeon put the IV in her groin.
I really know that I saved that young lady’s life. If Becky had general anesthesia, she would not have made it off the table.
The R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Maryland highlights the importance of trauma center physician anesthesiologists.