Emergency room doctor now a National Guard surgeon

Connecting Vets
April 08, 2020 - 9:22 am
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By Air Force Maj. Michael O'Hagan

A New York City emergency room doctor at the heart of the fight against COVID-19 has added another role to his already impressive lists of medical credentials: flight surgeon in the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing.

Now a major, Dr. Lorenzo Paladino has 20 years of experience as an emergency room doctor and has also been training the pararescuemen of the 106th Rescue Wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron in medical techniques for the past six years.

In civilian life, Paladino is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center and Kings County Hospital Center. Research he conducted on the use of a single ventilator to support up to four subjects in 2008 was cited in a recent New York Times article on the COVID-19 crisis.

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Paladino also traveled to Washington to discuss his research with federal health officials.

Paladino said he decided to join the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing more than a year ago because he liked the idea of being able to serve in his community while also serving the nation.'I was always a New Yorker. I was born in New York, went to school in New York, went to med school in New York, I did my residency in ]]w York also,'' he said. ''You always have a love for your hometown. I think being in New York was a big attraction — being able to help my hometown.''

Paladino's relationship with the 106th Rescue Wing began when he was teaching Army Special Forces medics at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Paladino's journey into medicine started with scuba diving, then scuba rescue, then becoming a New York City paramedic before deciding on medical school. While he was working as a resident in training, Special Forces soldiers would rotate through his hospital for training, and Paladino, as a former paramedic, would teach them.

''The pre-hospital environment is a different animal,'' he said, adding that because he understood that, he could share that perspective with the soldiers.

Eventually, he was invited to teach at the Special Forces School, where he met Rush. Rush, in turn, got him involved in teaching classes to the Air National Guard pararescuemen, known as PJs for short.

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''I want to help those who are helping us — the soldiers, the PJs, the airmen,'' he said. ''I want to help them do their job, because they are helping us for the greater good.''

Aong with working in a big-city hospital, Paladino has operated in austere environments. He's worked in the aftermath of earthquakes in Haiti and disasters in South America, and has also worked with refugees in Iraq. These experiences prepared him for working in now overcrowded emergency rooms in America’s largest city, he said.

''I've been in places where the basics like toilet paper and food were scarce even for us as the rescuers, but also where the medical supplies were scarce for us. So I've grown accustomed to working in those environments,'' Paladino said. ''But it is very alien to do that in my own zip code.''

He and other medical colleagues knew the coronavirus hitting China would spread to the United States and worked to get ready, Paladino said.

''For those of us who had our finger on the pulse, we had a little bit of a heads up,'' he said. ''We could see what the situation was going to look like, what the burden was and the equipment that was going to be needed ahead of time.''

The problem, he said, was that doctors and hospitals in China and Europe were also trying to order the same equipment at the same time.

His March 20 swearing-in to the armed forces was planned before the current health crisis, and there was discussion about putting it off or doing it by teleconference, the doctor said. Instead, with downtime being so precious at the moment, he decided to come to the wing in person to have the oath of office administered by Lt. Col. Glyn Weir, the commander of the 103rd Rescue Squadron.

He then carried out his first action as a major that afternoon, holding a training session for the 103rd Rescue Squadron's pararescuemen. He recalled not answering at first to one of the PJs calling him a major for the first time. ''Oh, he's talking to me,'' he recalled.

The ability to attract people like Paladino to join is what makes the Air National Guard so special, said Air Force Col. Michael Bank, the 106th Rescue Wing commander.

''I am continually amazed at the level of talent and ability we recruit to our team,'' Bank said. ''Dr. Lorenzo Paladino has already been making a difference for us as an instructor, and we couldn't be happier to have him join our team. As the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, I am proud we are home to some of the best medical minds in the military.''

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