Massive pediatric neurosurgical injuries and lessons learned following a tornado disaster in Alabama

Clinical article

Joshua J. Chern M.D., Ph.D., Joseph H. Miller M.D., R. Shane Tubbs M.S., P.A.-C., Ph.D., Thomas R. Whisenhunt M.D., Ph.D., James M. Johnston M.D., John C. Wellons III M.D., Curtis J. Rozzelle M.D., Jeffrey P. Blount M.D., and W. Jerry Oakes M.D.
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  • Pediatric Neurosurgery, Children's Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama
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A large volume of patients presented to a Level I pediatric trauma center during and after a recent tornado disaster. Injuries of the central and peripheral nervous systems and the medical responses of a pediatric neurosurgical team are reviewed.


The clinical courses of patients who suffered cranial, spinal, and peripheral nerve injuries due to the tornado storm are reported. The clinical actions taken by the neurosurgical team during and after the event are reviewed and the lessons learned are discussed.


The tornado storm system moved through the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham metropolitan areas on the early evening hours of April 27, 2011. Twenty-four patients received care from the neurosurgical team. A total of 11 cranial (including placement of an external ventricular drain), 2 spine, and 2 peripheral procedures were performed for the victims. Nine procedures were performed within the first 12 hours of the event, and an additional 6 surgeries were performed in the following 24 hours. Injuries of the peripheral nervous system often presented in a delayed fashion. Several key components were identified that enabled adequate neurosurgical care for a large influx of acute patients.


Massive casualties due to tornados are rare. A well-organized physician team working with the hospital administration may decrease the mortality and morbidity of such events.

Abbreviations used in this paper: EDH = epidural hematoma; EVD = external ventricular drain.

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Contributor Notes

* Drs. Chern and Miller contributed equally to this work.

Address correspondence to: Joshua J. Chern, M.D., Ph.D., Pediatric Neurosurgery, Children's Hospital, 1600 7th Avenue South ACC 400, Birmingham, Alabama 35233. email:
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