It was 9:12 a.m. on April 16, 1947, and the surgical instruments rattled on a tray while Dr. Truman G. Blocker Jr. was performing surgery at UTMB.
Rushing to a window, he saw a mushroom cloud and imagined the beginning of another global conflict.
In fact, it was the detonation of 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate aboard the SS Grandcamp, a freighter docked in Texas City. Explosions and fires killed almost 600 people in what remains the worst industrial disaster in American history.
Casualties soon began arriving at the medical branch. Blocker, then chief of plastic and maxillofacial surgery, triaged patients, marshaled residents and brought to bear his years of experience as a decorated military surgeon.
In that day of tragedy lay the genesis of the Blocker Burn Unit at the medical branch, a world-recognized center in research and treatment of burn patients.
For nine years, Blocker and his wife, Dr. Virginia Blocker, followed 800 patients injured that day. That focus on research and evidence-based practice has remained the guiding principle of the Blocker Burn Unit. Blocker became the first person to hold the title of president at the medical branch.
Last week, the Blocker Burn Unit had a rededication ceremony to celebrate a complete renovation of the unit, the first burn center in the United States to be a verified center of excellence by the American Burn Association and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, an accreditation it has maintained continuously since 1996.
“This is a glorious day and we wouldn’t be here without the community,” said Dr. David Herndon, chief of staff for the medical branch burn service, and chief of staff and director of research at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Galveston.
He told the assembled crowd of donors, friends and staff that Blocker was his idol.
“He started the first burn center in the United States here in Galveston and made it a center of excellence to treat burn patients from throughout the world.
“The mortality and outcome statistics in this unit are the best in the United States.”
As the only center in the country where critical care fellows can be trained in burn care, the Blocker Burn Unit has trained more than 200 fellows who are now leading burn centers around the world.
The renovated Blocker Burn Unit has roughly doubled in size — with two more dedicated beds, bringing the total to six — and now comfortably accommodates both inpatient and outpatient care in a soothing environment that incorporates the best in design.
Treatment for burn patients requires a team approach with as many as four care providers at the bedside simultaneously. The rooms have nearly doubled in size, allowing that care to flow freely and providing extra space for family to stay in the room.
The design now allows the health team to provide hydrotherapy and wound care at the bedside for critically ill patients.
Warmth is critical when caring for severe burns and the new design makes it possible to keep room temperatures at more than 100 degrees without warming the entire unit.
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Reynolds, Galveston Daily News.