Mark Bomann, M.D., anesthesiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, Calif., had just finished inserting an epidural for a patient in labor when he got a phone call. The voice on the other end of the line said, “You have 20 minutes to get on a plane.”
Bomann replied, “You know I have a job, right?” But when he heard the reason for the request, “I called my wife, and asked her to get my flight suit out. I knew I was going to break some laws driving to the airport.”
A young man, who was part of a Navy SEAL team, had been injured when a grenade exploded in his hand while training outside of California. There was a chance his hand could be saved if he could get to a top hand clinic at California Pacific Medical Center, Davies Campus. Time was of the essence.
An elite military pararescue team, for which Bomann serves as medical director, transported the soldier via plane. “We went from ‘we’re going to amputate,’ to ‘we’re going to repair your hand and not only that, but there’s a high likelihood you can stay in the military,’ ” Bomann says. “This kid already had [been awarded] a Purple Heart; he had almost died.”
It wasn’t the first time Bomann had to leave work suddenly for a critical mission with the pararescue team. He served as medical lead when the team helped a family stranded on their sailboat in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 900 nautical miles from any land, with a very ill 1-year-old. The team evacuated the family and got the child to medical care. “It’s really remarkable work that he does. That was a great save,” says Paul Beaupré, M.D., CEO of Good Samaritan Hospital, an HCA facility.
Bomann has a long history with the military. “I never planned to go to college,” he says. “I had signed up for the Army my junior year of high school. I wanted to be a paratrooper, jump out of airplanes.” When his mother begged him not to stay in the military, he enrolled in college and discovered he loved it. “It massaged the pieces of my brain that hadn’t been active for four years,” Bomann says. While at Harvard Medical School, he met Jen Furin, M.D., who connected him with Partners in Health, a group of health care workers who travel worldwide to provide medical care to impoverished people.
With Partners in Health, he has traveled to Haiti and Peru to provide primary care, including treating people infected with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. “We’d go house to house, make sure people were taking their medicine,” Bomann says. “You have to make sure everyone in the family is taking it, because if one person doesn’t, then resistant bacteria develop.”
He’s also gone on a mission with his church to Kyrgyzstan to provide primary care to families who don’t have regular access to medical services. “There, people don’t go to the doctor unless they’re dying,” he explains. “There were lots of preventable things that people were either suffering from, or actually dying from.”
Nevertheless, there are situations in which he knows there is little hope. “I listened to the heart of a girl who had aortic stenosis,” he says. “It’s slowly progressive, and if it starts when you’re young, you will die from it without a valve replacement.” On days like that, “you go home, close your door, and cry a little. Then you go back out and do it again.”
As soon as the horrific earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, “my wife just looked at me and said, ‘Well, when are you going?’” Bomann, Furin and their team, “went in and we crushed it. We knocked it out of the park. It’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my life. I am still in awe at what the team accomplished. It touched each of our hearts.”
The work Bomann does requires a great deal of support, both from his family and from Good Samaritan. “His anesthesia group has really stepped up,” says Beaupré. “The surgeons understand he may be called away. And he fully understands the sacrifice his family makes on his behalf, to allow him to do this.”
Bomann recently received the Frist Physician Award, a 2014 HCA Award of Distinction, given annually in recognition of the humanitarian spirit and philanthropic work of the late Thomas Frist Sr., M.D., a founder of HCA.