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Trauma surgeon saved countless lives before his death

Dr. Norman McSwain, internationally renowned for his work as the head of trauma at Charity Hospital and an expert in emergency medicine, died Tuesday, his family said. He was 78.

NEW ORLEANS -- He was known throughout the world as a doctor who had a passion for teaching others how to save lives.

Dr. Norman McSwain passed away in his French Quarter home Tuesday afternoon at the age of 78. He had complications from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago.

He spent his life as a surgeon saving the critically injured. It's hard to know how many hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide were saved or forever changed by trauma surgeon Dr. McSwain.

The doctor with the gentle, southern voice was a giant in his field. Few people know that the way the team of medical professions saves victims of car crashes, gun shots, industrial injuries, and terrible trauma was the vision of Dr. McSwain.

On the back of some napkins in the Roosevelt Hotel, decades ago, he and a hand full of surgeons outlined what we know as emergency medicine today at a time when an E.R. was called the accident room with a small staff.

Dr. Kenneth Mattox, chief of staff at the Ben Taub Hospital in Houston and vice president of the American College of Surgeons, was one of the doctors that night with him at the Roosevelt.

"Today, 2015, it is literally no different from the structure that occurred that night with 12 individuals who were frustrated with what was out there," Dr. Mattox said.

If a loved one in the military was injured on the battlefield, he or she may have come home to U.S. soil because of Dr. McSwain's work with the Department of Defense Joint Trauma System's Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care. One was having all soldiers equipped with tourniquets and special dressing for bleeding injuries. Dr. Frank Butler of Florida is chairman of that committee.

"Since 1999, Dr. McSwain has been helping in this effort to develop new and better battlefield trauma care techniques and training methods that have helped to save literally hundreds of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Dr. Butler.

Treating NOPD officers didn't end on his clinic exam table. During Mardi Gras parades, Dr. McSwain was out on the routes giving vitamin B shots to those sick or tired from long, overtime hours. If you were sick or tired from long hours at Jazz Fest, Dr. McSwain was there in the medical tent. If you've ever needed EMS, you arrived at the hospital with a higher chance of doctors saving your life, because he started a program to train first responders in pre-hospital life support.

Will Chapleau, chairman of the Prehospital Trauma Life Support Program for the National Association of EMTs, said this training of more than a million people saved countless lives and spread Dr. McSwain's passion for that worldwide.

"People love him and love the program for that, and that's why we have people in over 60 countries doing the work, because we believe in the community," said Chapleau.

Dr. Lance Stuke was a young parametric and is now an LSUHSC trauma surgeon, in part because of Dr. McSwain's influence.

"He's somebody who is nationally and internationally famous for what he does, and we're lucky in New Orleans that we've had this guy here as our guardian angel for almost 40 years," said Dr. Stuke.

At the old Charity Hospital there's a world famous room called 'Room 4.' It's where the most severely injured patients were brought. At University Hospital (LSU Interim Hospital), doctors also named the trauma room, 'Room 4.'

Now, today in the new, state-of-the-art resuscitation room, the new 'Room 4' at University Medical Center due to open Saturday, doctors are upset that Dr. McSwain will never get a chance to use it.

Dr. McSwain even made sure there was a medical tent after Hurricane Katrina named 'The Spirit of Charity Room 4.'

He has seen horrific frontline trauma. He knew he couldn't save everyone, but giving a mother her child back was rewarding.

"Frequently patients come up say, 'You don't remember me, but I remember you.' And it's heartfelt. You feel it. It's good," said Dr. McSwain with a tear in his eyes, in 2013.

"When he greets you he will say, 'What have you done for the good of mankind today?' And he meant it and he lived it himself," said Dr. Stuke.

He lived it as a surgeon, an educator, patient advocate, fun friend and mentor.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Click here to watch our 2013 special report on life in the Level I Trauma Center with Dr. McSwain.

On a personal note: I am deeply saddened by the loss of this great man. He was always available to me as a medical reporter and took joy in helping and teaching me, just as he would with his medical students.

Dr. McSwain, in some ways, reminded me of my father, the late Dr. Charles Farris, Jr., an obstetrician, gynecologist, surgeon and menopause hormone expert. He died almost exactly two years ago. Both had a passion for treating their patients. Both had a passion for teaching others. They both had the voices of soft-spoken Southern gentlemen. They both died working, treating patients, until nearly their last days on earth. They both, I am told, treated every single person, no matter what your position in life, no matter what you had to offer the world, with equal, utmost respect.

I will never forget my time as a teenager, scrubbing up and watching my father in the O.R. Dr. McSwain, and the incredible medical team in the Level I Trauma Center let me do the same thing two years ago. I watched as they worked into the late, overnight hours saving lives. In my Dad's O.R., just as in the Trauma Center, everyone was calm, professional and a team. It was never like it is portrayed on TV shows.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to go behind the scenes of those men and women, who are often not thanked, for saving the lives of our police officers, loved ones and the victims and perpetrators of violence. Dr. McSwain made that happen for me. What I didn't know until this story, was the level of respect Dr. McSwain had from people around the world. I will miss him. I will miss his joie de vivre. I will miss his invitation to 1212 this and every October. Thank you Dr. McSwain. Thank you. Meg

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