In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 13, 2017

Childhood Fascination With Ambulances Leads to a Career Saving Lives

By In the Loop

When he was a child, Roger White, M.D., was intrigued by ambulances. That boyhood fascination led to a career in emergency medicine and life-saving contributions to his field.

Some people collect coins or stamps. Roger White, M.D., decided to collect something that required a bit more storage space: vintage ambulances. "I had a 1952 Pontiac, a 1972 Pontiac, 1974 Oldsmobile," Dr. White, co-medical director of Mayo Clinic Medical Transport, tells The Huffington Post. "I bought the last Cadillac ambulance built in the United States in 1979. They built 10 of them, and I bought the last one, number 10."

Dr. White's interest in ambulances dates back to his childhood. He started collecting much smaller toy ambulances. That fueled his interest in the real thing. "I was impressed with the beauty of the vehicles," he tells The Huffington Post. "I'd track them. I'd photograph them. I'd write to the companies. When I was a kid, 12 years old, I would pencil a letter asking for literature on these vehicles." That boyhood fascination never faded. Instead, it morphed into a career devoted to emergency medicine, especially to improving the care and survival of people who have sudden cardiac arrest. As we reported a few years back, Dr. White led the (ahem) charge for putting automated external defibrillators in every police car in Rochester, Minnesota, in addition to ambulances and fire trucks. That change has meant faster access to life-saving defibrillation for many patients, since police are often the first to respond to 911 calls. As a result of those efforts, Rochester is the place to be if you're going to have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Survival rates, The Huffington Post reports, are 63 percent versus the national average of 38 percent.

Dr. White also helped change many people's perceptions of what's possible when it comes to CPR. He was in the news a few years back for his role in directing a 96-minute CPR session — a marathon resuscitation that saved Howard Snitzer's life. "I think that experience probably influenced a lot of the thinking and thoughts that went into the guidelines and protocols for how long to deal with a cardiac arrest," Dr. White tells The Huffington Post. "We don't give up. I don't care how long it takes."

In an expanded podcast interview with the HuffPost contributor, Dr. White says he kept the ambulances for "many, many years" (and often drove them to work at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus) before selling them to other collectors. He did, however, keep a few ambulances from his model-sized collection, though he's given most of those away to collectors "so they can share the fun of it," he says. Or, perhaps serve as inspiration for future physicians.

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Tags: Dr. Roger White, Employee Stories, Mayo Clinic Medical Transport

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