Ron Knecht: Dream, work, achieve: A tale for our youth

Nevada has some amazing people. This is a story about one of them, Dr. Thomas Schwenk, dean of Nevada’s medical school. It’s a story he tells to inspire beginning medical students and others.

Thirty years ago, after completing their medical residencies, Schwenk and a partner opened an office in a small northern Utah town. They were the only physicians in a large area, the closest hospital was an hour away, and even helicopter transport took time to arrange.

One morning members of an ambulance service called to say they were rushing a woman in labor to the hospital. However, she was on the verge of delivery, so the ambulance would shortly be stopping at their offices for delivery there. She had had pregnancy complications and was only about 26 weeks along, so the baby would be very premature.

They quickly prepared warm water and other resources they needed, and within 10 minutes the ambulance pulled up and they moved the woman into their offices. Five minutes after arriving, she delivered a baby boy who weighed about 2 pounds and was the size of a small loaf of bread.

The baby was blue-gray, wasn’t breathing and had no pulse or heartbeat. The doctors had provided a lot of emergency care, but not for 2-pound extremely premature babies, so they did the best they could. They managed to put a small breathing tube down his throat — no small feat in itself — to give the child oxygen. Meantime, their office called for a helicopter to the hospital in case they could save the baby.

They started cardiac resuscitation but got no response. They had no way to administer medications, such as a line through the very small umbilical cord or the child’s tiny veins. After a couple of minutes, Schwenk told his partner the only option they had was an adrenaline injection directly into the heart to stimulate it in hopes it would start to beat.

As Schwenk prepared the needle, his partner asked if he knew how to do such an exotic procedure, and Schwenk said he thought he did. Hopefully, he injected the medicine below the sternum directly into the heart.

Amazingly, they got an immediate response: the baby’s heart began to beat and he began to turn pink and breathe. The helicopter arrived, and child and parents were flown to the hospital, where the boy spent the next three months in neonatal intensive care, but he grew and thrived with no complications. The doctors lost track of the family after that.

A year later, a young couple walked into their offices with a baby — the one the doctors had saved. The parents said they wanted to show them the miracle they had wrought and how well the boy was doing. Every year for several years thereafter, they returned on his birthday to show him the doctors who had given him life.

“I thought then and many times since then that if I never do another thing in my life, that day I justified my existence on Earth, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to contribute to that miracle,” Schwenk said.

I retell this story hoping that some Nevada student will read it and be inspired to dream of becoming a doctor, work a little harder and longer, take the chance and make the commitment. In an age when sometimes every kid gets an award just for participating in field day, our children deserve some stories of real heroism based on real dedication and achievement.

Ron Knecht is an economist, law school graduate and Nevada higher education regent.


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