Dr. Jeffrey Augenstein, pioneeer trauma doctor, dead at 64
Feb 16, 2012 (The Miami Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- "Trauma is the most significant disease in terms of young lives lost. However, unlike cancer or heart disease, this is a disease we can prevent." Dr. Jeffrey Stuart Augenstein gave 37 years of his life to that cause, as described to The Miami Herald in 2009.
The University of Miami-trained surgeon co-founded Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center, which he helped design, and ran it for five years.
He directed the William Lehman Injury Research Center at UM's Miller School of Medicine, where his work led to lifesaving advances on highways, battlefields, and in disaster zones.
His research for the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine led to the "de-powered'' airbag, which improved on earlier devices that sometimes killed the drivers and passengers they were designed to protect.
"He did detailed crash analysis, and his original research figured out that the first generation of airbags were too powerful and caused a lot of injuries,'' said Dr. Carl Schulman, Lehman co-director.
Augenstein, who died unexpectedly Saturday during a business trip to California, had been a safety consultant to BMW for 20 years. He created electronic record keeping at Ryder as part of a program to train frontline military medical personnel, worked on a "black box'' recorder that GM installed in six million cars during the 1990s, and pioneered "telemedicine'' technology that enabled surgeons in Miami to guide doctors in Haiti and in Middle Eastern war zones in real time.
"Jeff was considered a giant in the field of computerized trauma learning, injury prevention and patient care,'' said Dr. Alan S. Livingstone, the Lucille and DeWitt Daughtry Professor and Chairman of the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery. "With his extensive involvement in education, research, and clinical care, he was a true triple threat...He worked closely with car companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to incorporate 'real-world' crashes into the study of automobile trauma, and then to modify automobiles to improve survivability in an accident.'' Augenstein "was also a humanitarian, as exemplified by his early and continued involvement in the aftermath of the disastrous Haitian earthquake," Livingstone added.
Surgery was his passion, said Augenstein's wife, Deborah Greenberg Augenstein, but he had to stop performing it in 2007, after injuring his back during a trauma procedure.
"He loved being a surgeon so much that when he was not able to do it anymore, if people were describing surgical techniques at conferences, he'd leave the room in tears,'' she said.
The Miami Beach native and Norland Senior High graduate, born June 28, 1947, was found dead in a Los Angeles-area hotel room on the day he was due home in Coral Gables. His wife said he'd been traveling almost non-stop since Jan. 23, to Dubai, Washington, D.C., then California.
She said he worked constantly, relaxed by reading technical manuals, hadn't taken a vacation since visiting Colonial Williamsburg in 1987, or seen a movie since the 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
An autopsy was performed Tuesday.
At the time of his death, Augenstein was working on what Schulman called an app-like "holistic system of electronic care and teaching'' that stores and retrieves patient information, finds research on medical conditions, and can "immediately access help'' for the doctor using the system.
"Jeff had this vision for 20, 30 years, but technology finally caught with that,'' Schulman said.
He was also working on a certification program for returning combat medics, said Dr. Pascal J. Goldschmidt, dean of the University of Miami medical school.
"They gain a lot of expertise on the battlefield and the military doesn't give them any kind of certificate,'' he said. "This would be a way to measure and evaluate [their skills] to help them get jobs.'' Augenstein earned all of his degrees at UM: Bachelor of science in chemistry and master of science in psychology. He completed a combined medical/doctoral program in 1974, did his surgical residency at Jackson, where he became co-director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit in 1979.
He was director of the Medical Computer Systems Laboratory for more than 30 years.
Augenstein established the Army Trauma Training Center program at Ryder, and "for about 10 years, practically every care provider dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan trained there, which impacted millions of [military and civilian] lives,'' Goldschmidt said. "He traveled several times to the Middle East'' on unpublicized missions with the military.
Brother-in-law Ben Greenberg said Augenstein's interest in military medicine stemmed from training early in his career at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
In October 2011, Augenstein won the Commander's Public Service Award for providing important trauma research to the U.S. Department of Defense, and for helping to establish training for Forward Surgical Teams before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, Greenberg added.
He was a permanent civilian member of the Product Line Review Evaluation Team for the Department of Defense's Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center, and served on the Executive Board of the Combat Casualty Care for the Army Research & Material Command.
In November 2011, "telemedicine'' robots that Augenstein and his Lehman and JMH colleagues developed with the U.S. Army, the State Department and a private healthcare contractor, were sent to Baghdad.
They allowed doctors in Miami to oversee procedures in Iraq as they were happening, allowing them to read charts, check vitals, and offer consults in 15 minutes.
Although he initially wanted to be a heart surgeon, Augenstein's wife said he realized that by the 1980s that most of the important work in that field had already been done, so he switched to trauma, a wide-open field.
At the time, Miami was the perfect training ground. Gunshot and stabbing victims of "cocaine cowboy''-era violence overran JMH, nearly crowding out everyone else who needed emergency care.
Augenstein went to Washington, D.C. with South Florida civic leaders to plead for a trauma center. After it was approved, he helped design it, Schulman said, "slaving'' over plans for the building and developing computer programs to run systems and processes.
"He was absolutely unique,'' said his wife, who grew up in Coral Gables, worked in Augenstein's lab during his residency at JMH, and married him over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1976, when "he could arrange a few days off.'' During that time, she said, "he never went home, and slept four hours every two days.'' In addition to his wife, Augenstein is survived by his mother, Mildred Augustine Cohn and sister Linda Connelly.
Memorial service details are pending.
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