Home>Features>Feature - Bring 'Em Back Home: IMA leading the research effort to make sure America's wounded warriors make it home in the best condition possible
Col. Elizabeth Bridges in her office at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing in Seattle. As a Reservist, Bridges is the mobilization assistant to the director of Air Force Nursing Services.
7/24/2012 - Citizen Airman/Aug 2012 -- Col. Elizabeth Bridges has spent a lot of time considering how to best bring America's wounded warriors home, including the unique care provided in the back of cargo aircraft while injured service members are transported from field hospitals overseas to medical treatment facilities in the United States. Making sure America's wounded warriors make it home in the best condition possible is her passion.
"We have to think about all the stressors that affect patients during flight and look for solutions to monitor for changes," she said.
Bridges, an associate professor in the University of Washington's School of Nursing in Seattle and a clinical nurse researcher at the UW Medical Center, has been one of the nation's top scientists in the field of critically injured patient transport for a number of years. Her research has led her in a number of different directions, including how to best deal with the threat of hypothermia in the field and providing care during the eight- to 12-hour aeromedical evacuation flights from the combat zone to Germany and back to the United States.
"Severely injured trauma patients are at risk of becoming hypothermic," she said. "Our team conducted research that led to the hypothermia kits currently in use in Afghanistan. The kits consist of a lightweight space blanket and warming device that heat ups when opened to the air. The kits have been very effective in reducing the risk of hypothermia."
In fact, a wounded warrior is far less likely to develop hypothermia than someone injured in the United States who must be transported to a treatment facility.
"Currently, about 3 percent of our wounded service members are coming in with a low temperature compared to anywhere between 10 percent and 40 percent here in the United States," she said. "When you consider that our patients are more severely injured, I think this is an extraordinary accomplishment."
Bridges, who currently serves as the mobilization assistant to the director of Air Force Nursing Services, led the development of the Battlefield and Disaster Pocket Guide. The guide, which was funded by the TriService Nursing Research Program, is a reference for deploying care providers that fits neatly into a battle dress uniform pocket.
"So far, we've given out around 22,000 copies of the guide to nurses and medics from all three services," she said. "We want to make sure that when they deploy, they know exactly what they need to do as soon as their boots hit the ground. The guide is a good place to go to find answers to a lot of the questions they might have about care of battlefield injuries."
Currently, Bridges' research is focused on how to know as quickly as possible when a patient might be making a turn for the worse.
"Right now, we're doing a lot of research on noninvasive monitors -- putting a very small noninvasive probe on a person's hand that can give us a better idea of what is going on inside that person's body," she said. "The idea is to know as soon as possible if a patient might be heading for trouble so we can be more proactive in treatment."
Bridges' scientific skills were put to the test when she was selected to serve as the first director of the Joint Combat Casualty Research Team in Afghanistan in 2009.
"That was the perfect job for a critical care nurse and researcher," she said. "I felt like that deployment was 25 years in the making. I was able to look at research not only at one hospital but across the entire continuum of care -- how can we provide the best, evidence-based care for our most severely injured warriors from the battlefield all the way back to the United States."
Over the years, Bridges has been able to share what she has learned through her research with health care providers all around the world. She has spent time in Iraq, Pakistan, Estonia and a number of countries in eastern Europe and Africa to train nurses to care for trauma victims.
Since being selected to serve as the MA to the director of Air Force Nursing Services about a year and a half ago, Bridges has been making frequent trips across the country to the Pentagon. She said this job has allowed her to see beyond her role as a researcher.
"It's been a great opportunity because now I can help put ideas into policy," she said. "Research is still my passion, but it's exciting to be a part of the process now where the research gets put into practice."