OC surgeon and Navy veteran set to help train Ukrainian doctors for trauma surgery

FULLERTON, Calif. (KABC) -- Though Captain Donald Bittner retired from the U.S. military nearly three years ago, his work to aid soldiers wounded in battle continues -- this time, by preparing surgeons in Ukraine.

Dr. Bittner said the request came earlier this week from the American Association of Hand Surgery.

"We're all one large community all over the whole world. That's what binds us all together. We're all physicians. We all took the same oath," Bittner said.

Dr. Bittner is an orthopedic hand surgeon at Providence St. Jude Medical Center.

Before this, he served as an orthopedic trauma surgeon for the Navy in Afghanistan in 2010, operating on more than 250 injured military members, children and members of the Taliban.

Traumatic losses, helping the enemy while surrounded by firearms and blasts, techniques to save life and limb, communication with doctors from around the world-lessons learned he'll pass on alongside a colleague in San Diego.

On the other end of the Zoom presentation Saturday morning -- at least 75 Ukrainian doctors, in the middle of war.

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"Some of these surgeons in Ukraine are actually treating people in basements and even in their own homes because some of these hospitals have been occupied by Russian soldiers," Dr. Bittner said.

The psychological trauma it all carries needs care too.

Bittner knows the best outlet is to talk about it immediately with those surviving the journey by your side.

"That lesson was taught to me after my first day there I was in the locker room cleaning up and I was just covered with blood and one of the other doctors looked at me and said, 'Do you want to talk about this?' He could see it in my face and I basically said, 'No, I'm fine,' and he said, 'Let me tell you something. If you don't talk about it now, you never will,"' Bittner said.

A spokesperson with Providence St. Jude Medical Center said Friday, they're also trying to aid Ukraine with medical equipment donations.
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