Roughly 1,600 people gathered inside the Baltimore Convention Center April 26 to honor the heroes of Baltimore’s internationally renowned R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. In a night of the highest pomp and circumstance, city and state legislators heralded the work of the country’s only center solely dedicated to handling the pressures of trauma patients in need of urgent care.

“Every year they treat about 8,000 people …,” Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown told the AFRO, shortly before the gala began. “They have a 97 percent success rate and they save lives every day. It’s one of the best investments we can make into the health delivery system.”

This year’s festivities highlighted the stories of four who work inside the Shock Trauma Center every day – but in a twist of fate, found themselves in need of the critical care of their peers. “I work at tragedy central,” said Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, physician-in-chief of the Shock Trauma Center. “The hardest part is when the patient is one of us.”

Harold Hardinger, a 43-year-old veteran of the Shock Trauma nursing staff, never imagined he would land on Scalea’s operating table. That is exactly where he found himself after his Jeep was hit at an intersection late one night as he headed home from work.

Severely injured, the registered nurse crawled out of his flipped truck, gasping for each breath of air with a collapsed lung. With his hospital badge still on, emergency workers picked Hardinger up, put him in the back of an ambulance, and told him they were taking him right back to Shock Trauma. “There’s a small window in which you can save a life and only Shock Trauma can do it,” said Sen. Cathy Pugh, referencing the “golden hour” theory coined by Dr. R Adams Cowley.

According to information provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center, Cowley was contracted by the U.S. Army in the late 1950s to research the effects of shock to the human body, and the critical care needed within 60 minutes to offset traumatic injuries.

The Shock Trauma Center has maintained close ties with the U.S. military. It is where medical staff of the U.S. Air Force pick up crucial training in the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills program.

When asked what makes Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center different from other emergency rooms and hospitals around the world, Dr. Sharon Henry said teamwork and dedication. “Most places are in the middle of taking care of every other injury – it’s the only free standing trauma center in the world,” she said. “We have everything a patient would need: general surgeons, neurosurgeons, maxillofacial surgeons, critical care, and anesthesiologists dedicated to trauma.”

Henry, like all doctors working inside the learning environment of the Shock Trauma Center, doubles as a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “One of the most important things we do is train those who will follow us,” said Scalea, who emphasized the importance of teaching nurses, technicians, residents, and staff how to use the cutting edge equipment available at the teaching hospital.

“It is a technological marvel. It has revolutionized our ability to care for patients,” he said of the Center and its Critical Care Tower, which broke ground in 2010 and was dedicated in November of last year. “It has been a game changer for us.”

The Critical Care Tower of the Shock Trauma Center came with a price tag of roughly $160 million, complete with 64 private intensive care unity beds, and 10 brand new operating rooms.

John Spearman, former vice president of the Shock Trauma Center and current president and chief operating officer of Laurel Regional Hospital in Laurel, Md. said, “Baltimore’s Shock Trauma has helped set up systems around the world, including in Africa, India, and China.”

Newly appointed Shock Trauma board member Ken Banks said the night was necessary because the work done inside is “critically important. You don’t know the impact it has until you need it,” Banks said. “When I recognized the dedication of the doctors and the nurses I was totally impressed. Though I hope I never have to be a patient of their services, I think it’s a marvelous opportunity for Baltimore.”

Aside from honoring the four heroic stories, 57 members of the staff from nurses to surgeons also received special recognition for their healing touch and use of leading technology to save lives.