University City

Doctor’s duties move from suburbs to front lines

Dr. Grant Campbell, shown in blue scrubs, takes a break from his OB/GYN practice in University City, to perform as a trauma surgeon in the U.S. Army Reserve. Campbell’s biggest fear, he said, isn’t being attacked by the enemy but failing to do all he can for those soldiers injured on the frontline. “I’ve developed and admiration and affection for the people over there because I’ve seen first-hand the level of excellence that they have, and I constantly pray that I will be up to the task,” said Campbell.
Dr. Grant Campbell, shown in blue scrubs, takes a break from his OB/GYN practice in University City, to perform as a trauma surgeon in the U.S. Army Reserve. Campbell’s biggest fear, he said, isn’t being attacked by the enemy but failing to do all he can for those soldiers injured on the frontline. “I’ve developed and admiration and affection for the people over there because I’ve seen first-hand the level of excellence that they have, and I constantly pray that I will be up to the task,” said Campbell. COURTESY OF GRANT CAMPBELL

On a typical day, Dr. Grant Campbell can be found with his stethoscope pressed to a woman’s rounded belly. As an obstetrician, he’s often the first person to introduce a mother to her unborn baby’s heartbeat.

But in a few weeks, Campbell’s job description will change drastically. He’ll trade in his white coat for a camouflage uniform and he’ll be performing surgery on the military’s front line overseas.

Campbell, 43, an OB/GYN at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Eastover University OB/GYN practice in University City, leaves at the end of August for a four-month deployment to Afghanistan, where he’ll join the 946th Forward Surgical Team as a trauma surgeon, aiding Special Forces soldiers injured during battle.

It’s a contrast most obstetricians probably couldn’t imagine experiencing, but for Campbell, who’s preparing now for his third tour, it’s something he’s eager to repeat.

“I think the biggest thing that brings me back is that they don’t have enough surgeons,” he said. “Once you’ve gone once, you constantly think, are they getting what they need over there? Do I need to be over there helping out?”

Forward Surgical Teams, like the one Campbell will join at the end of the month, keep close enough to combat areas to stay within “the golden hour” – when the chance for survival among the critically injured remains the highest.

Under a tent, the mobile operating room consists of two surgical tables and a trauma area to assess patients, most of which are victims of IED explosions or gunshot wounds. There’s a lot of chaos and rapid-fire decisions, mostly centered around the surgeons’ efforts to stop massive blood loss.

“You’re seeing horrible things. People terribly injured. You see people that you know very well die,” said Campbell. “Sometimes you see people in front of you die despite your very best efforts.”

It’s a far cry from his practice back home, where photographs of babies, brought in by their proud mothers, line the walls, the “swoosh” sounds of heartbeats through ultrasounds pulse behind closed doors and the waiting room is filled with parents who wait and wonder whether they should decorate nurseries in pink or blue.

Now in his 14th year as an obstetrician, he’s lost count as to how many babies he’s helped deliver – somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000.

At home, Campbell has the luxury of developing months-long relationships with his patients, but as a trauma surgeon, he rarely sees them after the first day.

“We’re not designed to keep patients,” said Campbell, who lives in the Skybrook neighborhood in Huntersville. “We operate on them and get them stable, and usually within a few hours of doing surgery they are on a helicopter.”

The work is long and difficult, but Campbell said those four months on duty make him a better doctor once he returns.

“It’s been very gratifying. It’s been very taxing at times. It’s been scary, but it’s been very rewarding,” he said.

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: lisathornton@followmylede.com.

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