Every May, Mayo Clinic hospitalist Jason Persoff, MD, SFHM, sheds his doctor’s gear, grabs his camera and camcorder, and heads to the Midwest in search of ferocious weather for two weeks. This year, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based physician put his doctor’s gear back on sooner than he expected.
After 20 years of chasing storms, he found himself in what might have been considered a situation that was inevitable: helping people injured in a tornado. When a monstrous twister barreled through Joplin, Mo., last month, Dr. Persoff was less than a mile from its path. He and his “chase partner,” Robert Balogh, MD, an Oklahoma-based internist and former hospitalist, were able to rush in and assist in the aftermath.
One hospital serving the area, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, was destroyed, its roof ripped off by 200 mph winds.
Dr. Persoff checked in at the emergency room of the other one, Freeman Health System, and offered his help. He spent 10 hours there—first treating trauma patients.
“The initial trauma that came in was pretty fast and furious,” he says. “If somebody could be saved, and it wasn’t going to require an effort that would jeopardize resources, they did everything they could to save people.”
There were amputations, impalements, eviscerations. Some patients were covered in glass, he recalls. When the patients from St. John’s began to arrive at Freeman, Dr. Persoff treated them, doing admission orders on 24 patients.
Dr. Persoff plans to continue storm-chasing next year. But he says he’ll never forget the trauma nurse who was working as he arrived at Freeman and was still working as he left the hospital.
“That was one of the times where I was like, ‘Wow, this is really humbling,’ ” he says.
Check out photos and journal entries of Dr. Persoff’s storm-chasing adventures at http://stormdoctor.com/.