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Evanston Train Wreck Inspired Renowned Surgeon Brent Eastman

May 8, 2015
head portrait of man
Dr. Brent Eastman

University of Wyoming College of Health Sciences commencement speaker Dr. Brent Eastman traces his inspiration to become a surgeon to a fatal train wreck that took place in his Evanston hometown more than 60 years ago.

It was Nov. 12, 1951, when a frigid, zero-visibility blizzard obscured railway signals, resulting in a passenger train collision that killed at least 17 and injured nearly 70.

The next morning, 11-year-old Eastman and his father joined the rest of Evanston’s citizens to lend a hand. His father, A.W., was an engineer on the Union Pacific, and an engineer who was killed in the crash was a neighbor and a friend.

Among the passengers were surgeons who had just attended the Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) in San Francisco. They crawled from the wreckage and immediately joined with the local physicians to treat the wounded, breaking up dining car fruit crates for splints.

“That was the day -- standing there with my father and seeing these mass casualties and these surgeons -- that I decided I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a trauma surgeon,” says Eastman, who has practiced surgery and trauma care for more than 40 years. “I think what excited me then, and now, is when a multiple-injured patient is coming in, you’ve got to be prepared for everything.” 

He will speak at the UW College of Health Sciences commencement Saturday, May 16, at 8:30 a.m. in the Arena-Auditorium.

A general, vascular and trauma surgeon and a long-established leader on the issue of trauma and emergency surgical care, Eastman is chief medical officer and corporate senior vice president of Scripps Health and N. Paul Whittier Chair of Trauma for Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

Scripps Health is a nonprofit, integrated health care system in San Diego County with five acute-care hospital campuses, home health care services and an ambulatory care network of clinics, physician offices and outpatient centers.

Eastman served as president and chair of the Board of Regents of the American College of Surgeons, the world’s largest scientific and educational organization of surgeons. He earned his bachelor’s in zoology and physiology from UW in 1962 and was elected Associated Students of UW president. He went on to earn his medical degree from the University of California-San Francisco, where he completed his general surgical residency and served as chief surgical resident.

He is author or co-author of multiple publications and articles related to trauma. He served on the Institute of Medicine committee that, in 2006, published the landmark report, “The Future of Emergency Care in the United States Health System.” In 2009, Eastman delivered the Scudder Oration, the signature speech on trauma care, at the annual American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress.

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