A brain surgeon reminds us about what's right in the healthcare industry

This week in healthcare news we learned that hospital staff are bullied at work and employees often come to work sick, despite the link between sick healthcare workers and patient illness.

Both issues raise patient safety concerns that hospital leaders must address while also handling mounting financial concerns, reducing readmissions and improving the patient experience.

But you may have missed one piece of inspiring news, a small item that appeared at the end of FierceHealthFinance's January 31st issue,  in the "And Finally" section. It links to a United Press International article about a brain surgeon in Alabama who walked about eight miles in a snow storm to perform life-saving emergency surgery.

Eight miles. In a brutal snowstorm that took the Deep South by surprise and snarled traffic for hours. To save the life of a young man who suffered a traumatic brain injury.

I have thought about neurosurgeon Zenko Hrynkiw, M.D., and his dedication quite a bit this week.

And not only because New England was once again hit with another storm that dumped 12 inches of snow in my hometown and I know what it's like to brave the elements to get to a destination. No, in times of stress I often have to remind myself that, while deadlines are sacred, I'm not performing brain surgery or dealing with life and death while performing my daily job duties.

But now when I repeat that mantra, I think of Hrynkiw, who does perform brain surgery and deals with life and death--every day. And on that night in late January, he did it after a journey in extreme weather conditions that would have sent most people to seek refuge in a warm building, letting someone else handle the crisis.

Hrynkiw, according to various media accounts, thought nothing of it. Dressed in his hospital scrubs and "slip-ons" over his shoes, the 62-year-old doctor left Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham to head to the city's other hospital, Trinity Medical Center, where a patient was in desperate need for surgery. Hrynkiw, the only brain surgeon at Trinity, saw the patient's CT scans over his wireless phone and knew time was of the essence.

"He had a 90 percent chance of dying," Hrynkiw told AL.com.

But the dedicated doc had to abandon his car after a few blocks because the storm caused traffic to back up for miles. So, although unprepared for the elements, he walked for five hours in freezing temperatures to get to his patient. And then he performed surgery that likely saved the young man's life.

"It really wasn't that big of a deal," he told reporters.

But Trinity CEO Keith Granger told reporters that given the conditions, temperature and terrain, Hrynkiw's journey was a remarkable physical and mental feat. "We have an individual alive today who wouldn't be here if not for his efforts," Granger said.

To say Hrynkiw is a good man and a good doctor is an understatement. There is a better word for it in Yiddish--a mensch, which for lack of a better translation, means a man of integrity, someone others look up to.

And given the frequent reports about what's wrong with hospitals and health systems, it's good to take a moment to recognize Hrynkiw, a clinician--and mensch--who represents all that is right about the profession and the industry.- Ilene (@FierceHealth)

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