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Dr. Scott Coyne

Stony Brook University surgeon James Vosswinkel, above left, is recognized prior to the Dec. 5, 2016 New York Jets game at Metlife Stadium. Photo from Melissa Weir

When they come to him, they need something desperately. He empowers people, either to help themselves or others, in life and death situations or to prevent the kinds of traumatic injuries that would cause a crisis cascade.

Dr. James Vosswinkel, an assistant professor of surgery and the chief of trauma, emergency surgery and surgical critical care, as well as the medical director of the Stony Brook Trauma Center, is driven to help people through, or around, life-threatening injuries.

Vosswinkel speaks to people in traffic court about the dangers of distracted driving and speeding, encourages efforts to help seniors avoid dangerous falls and teaches people how to control the bleeding during significant injuries, which occur during mass casualty crisis.

For his tireless efforts on behalf of the community, Vosswinkel is a Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

Vosswinkel teaching bleeding control in April at MacArthur Airport Law Enforcement Division for the Town of Islip. Photo from Stony Brook University

Vosswinkel is the “quarterback for developing all the resources and making sure the quality of those individuals is up to very, very high standards,” said Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. “He’s a very fine trauma surgeon, who has assembled a team of additional fine surgeons. If he’s ever needed, he’s always available, whether he’s on call or not.”

Vosswinkel has earned recognition from several groups over the last few years. He was named the Physician for Excellence in 2016 by the EMS community.

In 2016, Lillian Schneider was involved in a traumatic car accident for which she needed to be airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital. Despite the severe nature of her injuries, Schneider gradually recovered.

In September Vosswinkel was honored as the first Lillian and Leonard Schneider Endowed Professor in Trauma Surgery at Stony Brook University.

“What’s different about Vosswinkel,” or “Voss” as Jane McCormack, a resident nurse and the trauma program manager at Stony Brook calls him, is that “a lot of people talk about working harder, but he does it. He’s an intense guy who is very passionate about what he does.”

Dr. Mark Talamini, the chair of the Department of Surgery and the chief of Surgical Services at Stony Brook Hospital who is also Vosswinkel’s supervisor, said Vosswinkel will come to the hospital to help a member of his team at any hour of the night.

“When his people need help, he’s there,” Talamini said.

Vosswinkel was recently promoted to chief consulting police surgeon by the Suffolk County Police Department.

Dr. Scott Coyne, the chief surgeon for the Suffolk County Police Department said he’s come to rely on Vosswinkel repeatedly over the years.

Coyne said Vosswinkel is frequently on the scene at the hospital, where he shares critical information about police officers and their families with Coyne.

“He’s a very valuable adjunct to our police department,” Coyne said. “If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”

“If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”

— Dr. Scott Coyne

The trauma surgeon is also involved in helping train members of the community with a system called B-Con, for bleeding control.

Amid the alarming increase in mass casualty events that have occurred throughout the country, the first provider of care is often a civilian.

“Even before the EMS gets there, civilians can take action,” McCormack said. Vosswinkel has been directly involved in helping civilians to recognize life-threatening hemorrhaging, how to place a tourniquet and how to pack wounds.

“He’s been the energizer bunny for that [effort] all throughout Suffolk County and on Long Island,” Talamini said. “It’s been an incredible effort.”

Talamini said he is impressed by the work Vosswinkel has also done at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center to help prepare for its Level 3 certification.

“He has begun doing his magic at another significant Suffolk County hospital,” Talamini said. Talamini called his work on blood control at Brookhaven “superhuman.”

Talamini said he is impressed with his colleague’s ability to connect with people from various walks of life, which is an asset to the trauma surgeon.

“He’s that kind of person, which is why he’s been so successful with all these outreach events,” Talamini said. “His patients adore him.”

Working with the Setauket Fire Department, Stony Brook’s Trauma Center offers tai chi for arthritis and fall prevention, which uses the movements of tai chi to help seniors improve their balance and increase their confidence in performing everyday acts.

Discussions about Vosswinkel often include references to a conspicuous passion: the New York Jets.

Kaushansky called Vosswinkel the most die-hard Jets fan he has ever seen. His office is decorated with Jets paraphernalia, leaving it resembling a green shrine.

In December 2016, the Jets honored Vosswinkel for his lifesaving care of two Suffolk County police officers. He participated in the coin toss to kick off a Monday Night Football game.

Vosswinkel credited the trauma group for the favorable outcomes for the two officers.

“This is not about me,” he said at the time. “This is about Stony Brook. It is a true team that truly cares about patients.”

To be sure, the successful and effective doctor does have his challenging moments.

“He gets tired and cranky once in a while, like everyone else does,” McCormack said. “Most people in this building would be, like, ‘I want to be on his team. I know we’ll probably win with him.’”

A win for Vosswinkel and the Stony Brook trauma team is a win for the patient and for the community, which benefits from some of the best trauma care in the country, Talamini said.

“There’s nobody that’s more deserving and done so much and continues to do so much for the people of Suffolk County than Dr. Vosswinkel,” Coyne said

Residents gather to discuss drug and heroin use, rehabilitation and laws at the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates’ monthly meeting. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“Addiction is a family disease.”

That’s what Tracey Budd and social worker Mary Calamia had to say during the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates’ community event about heroin use on Long Island.

Around 20 residents gathered at the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars headquarters on Feb. 24 to discuss drug laws, heroin use in the community and how to combat the Island’s heroin issues.

Tracey Budd, of Rocky Point, founded the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates group to help work with families to try to combat the drug issues on Long Island. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Tracey Budd, of Rocky Point, founded the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates group to help work with families to try to combat the drug issues on Long Island. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Budd, of Rocky Point, established the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates group last fall. Her son, Kevin Norris, was one of many heroin users on Long Island before he died of an overdose in September 2012. Budd hoped to educate Long Island communities on drug awareness and establish a support system for drug users and their families who are seeking help, with the creation of this group. She tries to hold a meeting at least once a month.

“I’m hoping that as parents, neighbors, [and] friends, we learn how to advocate [about drug awareness] a little more, rather than putting it on Facebook,” said Budd about residents who have sought help, especially with acquiring Narcan, through social media outlets. She was among several residents, including Dorothy Johnson, who said people need to change how they view heroin users.

Johnson is a member of the Great Bay coalition. She lost her son four years ago to a heroin overdose and has fought to increase drug awareness ever since. For Johnson, heroin and drug users aren’t junkies, but everyday people in need of help.

“It’s not that they’re bad and sitting on a street corner,” Johnson said. “It’s somebody that’s walking around in a suit and tie that comes from a good family.”

Many of these families do not change how they view or deal with their relative once they return from a rehabilitation center. According to Calamia, treating rehabilitated individuals as though they still use heroin or other drugs will only encourage future drug use.

In light of heroin use on Long Island, the Suffolk County Police Department started using Narcan in August 2012, according to Dr. Scott Coyne, chief surgeon for the police department. The anti-overdose medication was used more than 470 times in 2013 and 2014 and 543 times last year. While Narcan allows officials and those trained to administer it to save people who overdose on heroin or opiate-based drugs, public and safety officials said some drug users abuse the system.

Sgt. Keith Olsen, on right, speaks at the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates’ meeting. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Sgt. Keith Olsen, on right, speaks at the North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates’ meeting. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Capt. William Murphy said the police department has saved an unidentified Mastic Beach resident around 11 times using Narcan. Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) added that one woman who got into a car crash on Middle Country Road and Nicolls Road a few weeks ago demanded Narcan from First Responders. According to LaValle, officials can’t test a resident’s blood after receiving Narcan.

Currently, patients can go home shortly after officials administer the medication. Budd is trying to establish a 72-hour hold for these patients, which will allows hospitals to monitor patients following the procedure.

She also helped establish a 24-hour hotline for drug users and their families or friends who are looking for help, after she attended a conference at the Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office last September. That hotline should be up and running, according to Budd, by April 1.

“Sometimes I feel bad for the young kids we’re locking up,” said Sgt. Keith Olsen of the SCPD. “They need help. They’re not the dealer. They’re not turning it over. They’re not the ones causing trouble.”

People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, someone practices spraying into a dummy’s nostrils. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The Suffolk County Police Department handed out dozens of overdose rescue kits in the Port Jefferson high school on Monday night, at the conclusion of a crowded drug abuse prevention forum geared toward educating parents.

“We have to double-down on prevention,” said Tim Sini, a deputy county commissioner for public safety who has recently been nominated for police commissioner.

People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, Jim Laffey assembles a syringe. Photo by Elana Glowatz
People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, Jim Laffey assembles a syringe. Photo by Elana Glowatz

He and other officials from the police department, medical examiner’s office and community spoke at the forum to inform parents about the dangers of drug abuse, including how kids get introduced to and hooked on drugs in the first place. Much of the discussion focused on opioid drugs, which include heroin as well as prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, and on the lifesaving Narcan, an anti-overdose medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain and can stop an overdose of those types of drugs.

According to Dr. Scott Coyne, the SCPD’s chief surgeon and medical director, in the three years since Suffolk officers have been trained to administer Narcan — the well-known brand name for naloxone — they have used it successfully 435 times.

Attendees who stayed after the forum were able to register in the police department’s public Narcan program and receive a kit with two doses of the medication, which can be sprayed into an overdose victim’s nostrils.

Narcan training classes are coming up
Want to learn how to use Narcan, the medication that stops an opioid overdose in its tracks? Training courses are taking place across Suffolk County over the next couple of months, including in Port Jefferson and in neighboring Centereach.

Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, blocks receptors in the brain to stop overdoses of drugs like heroin, Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin or Demerol, among others. It can be administered through a nasal spray and will not cause harm if mistakenly given to someone who is not suffering an opioid overdose.

The local training sessions meet state health requirements, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, and will teach trainees to recognize opioid overdoses, to administer Narcan and to take other steps until emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene. All participants will receive a certificate of completion and an emergency kit that includes Narcan.

The first course will be held on Monday, Dec. 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the county’s Office of Health Education in Hauppauge, at 725 Veterans Highway, Building C928. RSVP to 631-853-4017 or wanda.ortiz@suffolkcountyny.gov.

In Centereach, a course will take place on Friday, Jan. 15, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Middle Country library at 101 Eastwood Blvd. RSVP before Jan. 11 at alonsobarbara@middlecountrylibrary.org or at 631-585-9393 ext. 213.

Later that month, Hope House Ministries will host another Narcan training session in its facility at 1 High St. in Port Jefferson, in the Sister Aimee Room. That event, held in conjunction with the Port Jefferson ambulance company, will take place on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. Call 631-928-2377 for more information or register at https://pjvac.enrollware.com/enroll?id=952865.