Meet warzone doctor, now civilian orthopedic surgeon: Dr. Eric Porritt | by Debra Melani

Dr. Eric Porritt

Posted on Thu, Jan 15, 2015

Dr. Porritt brings a rare background to the NSMC orthopedic department. After serving in the Army National Guard in college, he took an active-duty scholarship for medical school. He was then stationed in Germany for three years, where he treated trauma patients at a major military medical center. He also worked as a warzone surgeon in Afghanistan.

Orthopedics Surgeon

(main photo) The mobile team performs emergency surgery in Afghanistan in August 2013 (above) Dr. Eric Porrit.

H&W: What types of patients did you treat in Germany?

Porritt: We dealt with all of the war trauma patients and overseas service members. I also had an elective practice that was mainly sports medicine for the service members there, particularly the expeditionary marines and the special-forces units.

H&W: Orthopedic surgeons have become pivotal frontline surgeons today; why?

Porritt: If we can get patients to a surgical level of resuscitation within three hours, it dramatically increases their life expectancy. In order to do that, we’ve taken orthopedic and general surgeons and put them farther forward in the battle zone rather than take severely wounded patients, stick them on a helicopter, and fly them back to a hospital. That’s the type of elite unit I was in. We were a mobile, highly-specialized, small unit that that would deploy out of a helicopter or airplane and move forward.

H&W: What were the main causes of the injuries you treated?

Porritt: The majority were blast injuries, either a soldier stepping on a mine or a loaded vehicle running over an explosive device. What typically results from that is severely mangled or traumatic amputation of the arms and legs. From an orthopedic standpoint, we would stabilize open fractures, surgically stop bleeding, and do revision amputations. My role was to save life first, which might mean sacrificing a limb. When I put on my other hat at the medical center, it became trying to save the limbs and making them as functional as possible.

H&W: What challenges did the environment add?

Porritt: We kind of say we perform world-class care in an austere environment. We do everything according to clinical practice guidelines and “standards of care” but in a very unusual setting. We did set up an operating room in a tent. There were missions that we went on where we were in insurgent territory. We had security but were very, very exposed. That aspect of it did make it a little more stressful, you might say.

H&W: How did your Army experience help you grow as a surgeon?

Porritt: I think it made me able to think outside of the box and be a problem-solver. The things we had to do were very much off-the-cuff and on-the-fly. Also, the level of leadership and responsibility that you have to show in that type of situation is very intense.

H&W: How did it change you as a person?

Porritt: It made me appreciate the little things more. It doesn’t take seeing many 18-year-old kids blown up before you start to put a very human side to medicine. It matures you.

North Suburban Medical Center

Dr. Eric Porritt and his Army surgical team prepare to mobilize.

H&W: What other aspects of your past experience will translate well into care here in Colorado?

Porritt: The sports medicine background will very much apply to the younger active patients and to the work-related injuries that we see with this population. But I also trained at St. James Hospital and Christ Trauma Center in Chicago, where my focus was very trauma- and joint-replacement intensive. I developed an interest in joint work with the elderly.

H&W: What do you do outside of work?

Porritt: I am happily married, for 17 years, and have five beautiful children. The oldest is 15, and the youngest is 4. We get outdoors a lot, hiking, walking and skiing. I love climbing, particularly Alpine. I’m an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. I’ve been a Scout Master twice, and my son is an Eagle Scout, as was I. I currently work with local Troop 365.

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  1. Nancy Hearn says:

    Beautiful. Need more of this type of thing.

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