SLU hospital trauma surgeon recognized for saving soldier’s life

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ST. LOUIS — When he’s not working as a level one trauma surgeon in the emergency department at St. Louis University Hospital, he can be found in SLU classes teaching the next generation of medical workers his real-life battlefield experience.

“Because of the nature of the trauma we see, we get a high rate of penetrating trauma which makes it an appropriate place to train for real-world battlefield injuries,” said Missouri Air National Guard member Lt. Col. Matthew Pieper.

Pieper has served in the Air Force for ten years. He has also spent the last seven years at SLU Hospital working as a trauma surgeon. Pieper is part of the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-Stars) program, a partnership between SLU Hospital, the Air Force, and the National Guard.

While working at SLU’s level one trauma center, he often recalls his battlefield experiences, like when he performed an impromptu surgery in 2018 aboard the back of a Blackhawk helicopter to save the life of a soldier who had been shot in the back.

“It was obvious he had lost a lot of blood in his chest,” said Pieper said. “I did a torque maneuver where I twisted his lung so it would stop bleeding, clamped his aorta, and pumped his heart, and he came back.”

At the time of the attack, Pieper was in Afghanistan supporting troops in the northern province. The medical Blackhawk helicopter was flying to a safe location, while bullets were flying by as it took continuous enemy fire.

The life-saving surgery he performed on the helicopter earned Pieper the Distinguished Flying Cross on Sept. 12, 2021.

“I received the distinguished flying cross, which is unusual for a physician to receive,” said Pieper.

His training and real-world experiences led to the lifesaving move in the face of deadly fire.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to do is take care of these guys who are willing to risk their lives for our security,” said Pieper.
  

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