Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The National Museum of Health and Medicine

This is my favorite museum in the world. I doubt you've ever been there. It's inconveniently located at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. While it is a public museum, you are still required to show a photo ID at the guard gate to get on the base. Then, you have to wind your way through a maze of stately buildings to find the museum tucked away on the ground floor of the Armed Forces Institute for Pathology.

As part of an effort by Congress to trim military costs, and consolidate resources, Walter Reed is closing. More accurately, portions of it are moving and other portions are being what I call "decommissioned." In other words, put out of business.

A couple of years ago I was invited to assist the museum in formulating a strategy to keep it open. That was the beginning of my love affair with NMHM. First a little history . . .

NMHM was founded during the Civil War for the express purposes of collecting body parts and studying battlefield injury for military medicine. NHHM is one of only two facilities in the world that serve all the branches of the US military. They have millions and millions of relics and artifacts including the bullet that killed President Lincoln. Currently on display, you can walk through a field hospital that housed the most seriously wounded of our fighting men and women in Iraq.

NMHM is more than a museum. It's a working lab. It's had a role in the development of every prosthetic device used by the military from an old tree limb to modern day bionics. NMHM had a significant role in the development of body armor, which is saving thousands of lives on the battle field today, and it even has direct video hook-ups, to offer guidance in medical procedures to the field hospitals where some of our bravest and most seriously wounded military personnel are treated.

Working with NMHM has been a humbling and emmensely satisfying experience. Yes, I've been paid at times to provide my expertise, but I consider it a patriotic duty to stay involved, and as such, have volunteered my time, when necessary, to participate in a museum strategy session and voice my views regarding the museum.

When making the case for keeping the museum as it is, rather than breaking up the collection and distributing it to other parties, I make two points:

1. Every American should appreciate the solemn obligation we have to the valiant people who served our country and are now laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Those heroes gave the ultimate sacrifice for their nation and our freedom. Equally as important, those people whose remains are represented in the collection of relics and artifacts at the NMHM gave the "ultimate sacrifice" twice. Not only did they die in service to their country, their remains have been given over for scientific, historic and research purposes so that others may be spared the same fate, and in other cases, so the injured are spared undo suffering and hardship.

2. We lost 54,000 Americans during 14 years of the Vietnam War. If one compares the seriousness of injuries between that conflict and what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death toll would be significantly higher in the current conflicts were it not for the advances, such as body armor, developed or advanced by the people connected to NMHM. Simply put, more of our brave fighting men and women are surviving the most serious injuries because NMHM exists.

Within the next year or so decisions will be made in Washington as to where NMHM will move, who will control it, and what shape its future will take. I can only hope that the powers that be see the importance of NMHM and its immense potential.

Rather than being housed at a single, out of the way location, NMHM has the potential to expand its mission by expanding and forging alliances with a wide variety of medical and technological entities, to form satellite facilities, traveling exhibits, and forward thinking agreements to access loaned elements of the collection. It is critical that the main public facility be located in or around Washington, DC. A national treasure of the significance of NMHM deserves to be showcased in our nation's capital, and not relegated to some obscure military base without convenient public transportation, or adequate recognition. We owe the great patriots whose remains are part of the NMHM collection nothing less.

Visit the web site linked above to see for yourself.