CHICAGO — Where do military medics learn to treat combat injuries? For some, right here in Chicago.

Gun shot and stab wounds account for 25% to 30%  of the cases at Cook County Health’s Stroger Hospital making it one of the busiest trauma centers in the country.

Dr John Ruggero is a surgeon with Cook County Health surgeon.

“There is quite a bit of similarities between gun violence that we see in the city of Chicago and wounds that we see in war,” he said. “What separates us apart from the rest of the country is our high volume of penetrating trauma.”

Ruggero, a Navy commander himself, helps lead the group as they navigate what are considered combat-like scenarios nowhere near an actual battlefield.

“There’s a lot of pressure a lot of times its life and death and you have to make split-second decisions,” he said.

Seven Naval medical providers have been embedded at Stroger since October 2022. They’ll deploy as a unit later this year.

Lt. Caroline Kivisto is among them.

“You’re seeing that every day, so you get the consistency on your skills and the repetitions that are needed to really hone the skills needed,” she said.I haven’t had the opportunity to train at this level for this amount of time.”

“A lot of the team members are coming from different backgrounds in the military, where they haven’t necessarily been taking care of traumatically injured patients on a daily basis,” Ruggero said.

Dr Frederic Starr is a trauma surgeon with Cook County Health.

“We figured this was a great opportunity to use for the best purpose as possible, this environment that we’re in here, and be able to do this great training for the Navy and have that sustainment of skills for the Navy,” he said.

The drills often extend to the operating room, where the team helped a gun-shot victim who required a procedure on his intestines.  

“At Cook County, I’m getting a lot of background information from experienced trauma surgeons and then more importantly, I’m getting hands-on experience with operative trauma cases, specifically penetrating trauma that would suit us for the future,” General surgeon Commander Dr Brigham Douglas said.

Lt Commander Amy Grand is a trauma surgery physician assistant.

“We’re going to almost finish each other’s sentences. That’s where we need to be and we are basically there,” she said. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity to be here and actually do that.”

“So the goal is to get them as ready as possible to deploy so, heaven forbid, if they see a casualty of a service member they are able to save a life,” Ruggero said.

The partnership, called ERSS, or Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System, dates back 10 years with the Naval Station Great Lakes and Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago.