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How I spent My Summer Vacation
by Dr. Michael Given, class of 68
Hello all.  Jon Kleckner, and others, wrote on the Bergenfield HS bulletin board that they wondered what some of their classmates have been doing since graduation.  So I thought I’d tell you my story, which should interest all of two people.  I’ll start at the beginning.

My father died when I was two-months old, leaving my mother to raise two children (my sister was 3 years old).  We moved around a lot and ended up living in my aunt’s house because we could afford the rent (free) and that is how I arrived in Bergenfield.

The person at BHS that had the greatest influence on my life was my Spanish teacher, Patsy Dash.  She provided the spark that catapulted me to the top of the bottom third of my class.  Unfortunately I don’t remember much Spanish, as a recent trip to Barcelona demonstrated.  Que lastima!  

I managed to get accepted to a few colleges after HS, but couldn’t afford to go.  I was more into adventure than books anyway, so hello Army.  Alan Wheeler and I enlisted and went through Basic Training together at Ft. Dix and then Jump School at Ft. Benning, GA.  We separated after that.  Alan ended up in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg while I stayed at Benning for Airborne Pathfinder training.  The Pathfinder motto was “First In, Last Out” and the job was to go into an area prior to an air assault, do reconnaissance, control air traffic/gunships during the assault and extraction, then hop on the last bird out.  Of the 5 guys in my Pathfinder class that hung out together, 3 of us made it back home from Viet Nam; two of those three were badly wounded.   I was the lucky one.

Viet Nam.  I first served with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong delta as part of a 10-man Recon team in the Mobile Riverine Force, a joint Army-Navy task force.  After that, I served as a sergeant with the 11th Pathfinder Detachment, 1st Cavalry Division, along the Cambodian border northwest of Saigon.  Pathfinders operated in two-man teams.  Although assigned to the 1st Cav, I was detailed to the 1st ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) Airborne Division most of the time.  Due to that experience I have a much different view of the war than most of my countrymen and I’ll never forgive America for abandoning the South Vietnamese.

I came home, trained Rangers for awhile at Ft. Benning, then left the Army in 1972, figuring I was all I could be at the time and went to college on the GI Bill.  I selected Tallahassee, because an Army buddy had attended FSU and we used to ride there on weekends from Benning on my motorcycle, and it was there I met my future wife.  I transferred to the University of West Florida in Pensacola, because it had the best program in the state for medical technology.  However, direct patient contact didn’t agree with me.  Couldn’t explain it, but then PTSD was a newly recognized and misunderstood condition (my wife is an expert, having had 38 years experience dealing with me).  I ended up with a degree in molecular biology and, at some point, was offered a full scholarship to a new PhD-MD program at the University of South Alabama Medical School in Mobile, which I accepted.  I completed the first two years of medical school but before starting the clinical rotations (3rd year) I decided dealing with patients wasn’t in the cards regardless of income potential.  So I elected a life of medical research in a laboratory.  I received my doctorate in Cardiovascular Pharmacology and did my post-doctoral training at Tulane University in New Orleans where I was invited to join the faculty.  I remained there, as a member the Cardiology department for 12 years, at which time I joined the LSU Department of Medicine/Cardiology down the street (LSU had a better football team; Geaux Tigers!).  I was at LSU for 6 years continuing my research into the causes of heart disease when 9-11 happened.  I left academic medicine shortly after that when the opportunity to head the Navy’s research program in combat casualty care was presented.  I figured that’s why God kept me alive those many times and so I have been directing that program for the past 8 years. 

You want a success story?  The killed in action rate from the Crimean War through Viet Nam was a relatively constant 25%.  That rate was cut in half in OIF/OEF due to improved body armor and advances in military medicine.  I take pride in being part of that.  In fact, the greatest honor I have had in my life so far is working with my Navy/USMC, Army and Air Force colleagues involved in taking care of our wounded sons and daughters.  You will never meet a more dedicated group of people anywhere and we are pushing the envelope on trauma care.  We have developed hemostatic agents that rapidly control hemorrhage to prevent shock and death.  We didn’t have them when we started OIF/OEF.  Combat Gauze, developed by my program, was just selected by the US Army as the “Greatest Invention for 2008”.  We are developing drugs that, with a single injection, result in 80% survival after 3 hours following 65% blood loss and without the use of resuscitation fluids (lethality is 100% if not treated).  My program also discovered a drug that reverses “irreversible” shock which had been uniformly fatal.  We are developing other drugs to put a casualty into a state of suspended-animation until he gets to a medical treatment facility and technologies to grow new tissues and organs lost to combat trauma (Col. Bob Vandre (Army) and I started the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine or AFIRM).  We are developing devices that provide “sight” to those blinded by trauma.  This technology allowed a soldier, who had lost both eyes in an IED blast in Iraq, to “see” his son, born during this deployment, for the first time.   We are developing automated critical care systems that are ever vigilant in responding to changes in a patient’s physiology and provide better care than human caregivers can give in dark, cold, noisy aircraft during evacuation or transport.  Remember, we operate in austere environments with minimal medical capabilities, often under fire.  We are developing new methods to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injury, and we are finally addressing PTSD.  There’s more, but I won’t bore you. That’s a success story, but it’s not mine, it belongs to the people I work with.

My wife teaches 7th and 8th grade Language Arts in an inner-city school in Alexandria, VA.  Every day she survives is a success story.   My son is finishing his senior year at Virginia Tech, is a member of the VT Crew Team (immediate past VP) and is also coaching the women’s novice crew team this year. 

So, that’s how I spent my summer vacation.  It’s been an interesting journey at times; would like to hear others (michael.given@navy.mil).  Take care.

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