USU Alumnus, Faculty Provide Medical Relief in Ukraine

A visiting surgical team led by retired Air Force Col. (Dr.) Warren Dorlac, a Uniformed Services University alumnus and associate professor of Surgery cares for combat victims in Lviv. (Photo credit: Warren Dorlac, Kelley Thompson, Jay Johannigman)

By Claire Pak


On May 27, 2022, a surgical team led by retired Air Force Col. (Dr.) Warren Dorlac, a Uniformed Services University alumnus and associate professor of Surgery, arrived in Lviv, Ukraine, to begin a volunteer mission supporting Ukraine’s civilian Emergency Medical Clinical Hospital. Dorlac’s team joined an existing team of volunteer surgeons deployed by the Global Surgical Medical Support Group (GSMSG), a non-profit organization that sends volunteer surgeons and physicians to disaster and conflict zones around the world. Their program provides visiting surgeons training in combat casualty care, and sends volunteer combat surgeons to work directly with Ukrainian clinicians and caregivers.

The Lviv Visiting Surgeon team at work in the clinic in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo credit: Warren Dorlac, Kelley Thompson, and Jay Johannigman)
The Lviv Visiting Surgeon team at work in the clinic in Lviv, Ukraine.
(Photo credit: Warren Dorlac, Kelley Thompson, and Jay Johannigman)
Dorlac, a recognized expert in trauma surgery and trauma care, was uniquely qualified to lead the team. A 1989 USU F. Edward H├ębert School of Medicine graduate, he served for 26 years as an Air Force surgeon, specializing in general, emergency, and trauma surgery. He was responsible for overseeing care of wounded and injured service members while as chief of trauma and trauma medical director at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Later, Dorlac directed the U.S. Central Command’s Joint Theater Trauma System, where he led trauma care units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He eventually served as trauma consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General. He has also published research on trauma-relevant topics, and worked as a consultant and advisor to U.S. allies seeking to establish their own military trauma care programs.  

Dorlac’s team began its work immediately upon arrival in Ukraine, starting with an assessment, which quickly identified a need for telehealth resources and microvascular surgical instruments.  Those items were subsequently received and put in place in the clinic. 

Within their first few days in Ukraine, the team evaluated conditions, offered recommendations, and delivered lectures and training on topics including end points of resuscitation and use of ultrasound in trauma and critical care.  The team also helped with efforts to develop a whole blood program for hemorrhagic shock management and improve infection control measures. According to Dorlac, emergency medicine is not a dedicated specialty in Ukraine. The Lviv emergency hospital staff that the team assisted includes trauma and general surgeons, thoracic surgeons, vascular surgeons, pediatric surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists/intensivists, and surgical and critical care nurses. The caseload included “typical combat wounds –- extensive burns, complex fractures, nerve injuries, soft tissue loss, and wounds and amputations,” said Dorlac. 

Dorlac's team began its work immediately upon arrival in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo credit: Warren Dorlac, Kelley Thompson, Jay Johannigman)
Dorlac's team began its work immediately upon arrival in
Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo credit: Warren Dorlac, Kelley Thompson,
Jay Johannigman)
The team’s efforts were funded through the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine’s Norman M. Rich Surgery Endowment. The endowment is named for USU professor emeritus Dr. Norman Rich, an American College of Surgeons “Icon in Surgery.”  As USU’s first full-time faculty member, Rich, a former Army colonel, founded the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, serving as a professor in the department from 1976 to 1999, and then its chair from 1999 to 2012. He retired from the Army in 1980, and after more than 50 years of military and civilian service to country, he retired from USU in 2018. 

“As one of the first surgeons to come out of the Vietnam War, I’ve been involved in teaching courses related to trauma life support and combat casualty care to surgeons for decades, across cultures, borders, and language barriers,” he said. “I appreciate HJF’s donation to support the Lviv Visiting Surgeon Program to help those who have the misfortune of being injured during the attacks on Ukraine,” Rich said. 

Dorlac was accompanied on the Ukraine mission by a distinguished team of medical professionals including military trauma surgeon and USU Surgery department faculty member Air Force Col. (Dr.) Jay Johannigman, renowned burn surgeon Dr. William Hickerson, and surgical physician assistant Kelley Thompson. With their work in Ukraine, Dorlac, Johannigman and the other surgical team members continue the tradition of U.S. military medical aid for conflict victims around the world, a tradition interwoven throughout USU’s entire 50-year history, beginning with Dr. Rich. 

“As a military surgeon, I have seen the worst that humanity can do, but I have also been fortunate enough to see the best,” said Dorlac, writing from Lviv. “It is a privilege to be part of this life-saving mission serving the brave people of Ukraine.”