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General surgery chief's book earns Langley Prize

A book written by UMMC's division chief of general surgery has received national acclaim for its research in documenting the experiences of physicians and surgeons during wartime.

Dr. Thomas Helling, professor and division chief of general surgery in the Department of Surgery, has received national recognition for his book, Desperate Surgery in the Pacific War – Doctors and Damage Control for American Wounded, 1941-45.

Helling received the Harold D. Langley Book Prize for Excellence in the History of Maritime Medicine during the Society for the History of Navy Medicine meeting at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Sept. 19-20.

Thomas L Snyder, left, retired U.S. Navy Medical Corps and executive director of the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, presents the 2019 Harold D Langley Book Prize for Excellence in the History of Maritime Medicine to Dr. Thomas Helling.
Thomas L Snyder, left, retired U.S. Navy Medical Corps and executive director of the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, presents the 2019 Harold D Langley Book Prize for Excellence in the History of Maritime Medicine to Dr. Thomas Helling.

A highlight of the meeting was the Naval Historical Foundation’s Commodore Dudley Knox Awards Banquet, during which Helling received a certificate.

Helling’s book was partially borne of his career experience in trauma surgical care and his service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The mission of the physicians and surgeons who Helling describes, many fresh out of internship with limited or no experience in trauma medicine, was simple: Patch up soldiers injured by the Japanese until they could be taken to a higher level of care.

They worked in extreme circumstances as battles raged around them, knowing that the closest ICU was where they were standing.

Helling’s research for his book was exhaustive: Personal interviews were impossible – all the physicians had died – but he spoke with some of their relatives to capture their stories. He scoured official records, including physicians’ reports of their activities and casualties treated.