CME on September 11th, 2001

Today, we remember the lives of those who were taken from us on September 11th, 2001.  Today, we honor the men and women who responded to this horrific tragedy, and the men and women who have fought for our country ever since to protect us, and keep us safe.  These are the true heroes of America.


On this day, we would like to offer a moment of respect for all of the families, loved ones, and friends whose lives were forever changed. 

CME on September 11, 2001

 It was a beautiful morning 10 years ago.  Our company was conducting a daylong continuing medical education (CME) meeting on cardiovascular disease for primary care physicians.  It was in conjunction with the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting (TCT 2001).    

The event that morning had 300 primary care physicians from the area surrounding Washington, DC.  Although our meeting was a small part of the conference, as TCT is a very large meeting, it included the best of the best in cardiology.  The program was partially supported by Merck.   

The co-chairman of the program was Sidney Smith, MD, of University of North Carolina and Bernard Hirsch, MD of Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN.  The meeting was originally scheduled to be simulcast in several cities including New York, but because of poor attendance numbers, we had canceled the simulcasts the week before.  

As the meeting got started at 8:00am, the speakers were engaged and the audience excited.  This was the first time that PCP’s in the area had to hear first hand from such a deep bench of cardiologists. 

As the morning got started, I received word that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.  At first, we could not tell if it was an accident.  However, no one thought it was purposeful at the time.  As we were discussing this accident, images began showing up of yet another plane flying into the second tower.  

At this point, we knew we had a serious problem and America was being attacked.  Fear and horror gripped all of us.  The attendees in the room had no idea what was happening and we were not sure if we should say anything until the break, which was scheduled for 10:30AM.  It was amazingly peaceful in the meeting room.  The physician speakers, who all knew by this time what was going on, remained poised and focused on their presentations. 

Then once again, the unimaginable happened, yet another plane hit the Pentagon, right outside of Washington, DC.   We all suddenly realized that we had a national crisis.   

That morning, I was continually going back and forth from the CME program and our meeting room, hoping to learn more and discussing what to do. 

The staff assisting us with the program was receiving word from their co-workers and those in the hallways looked very panicked.  Shock had set in.  

Around 10:15AM that morning, the staff decided they had had enough.  They announced to me and ran around the convention center announcing an evacuation of the convention center.  There was concern that the terrorists had targeted other public buildings in DC.  We all wondered, was the convention center one of them?  The concern was very real. 

The audio-visual staff now started to turn off their equipment.   At that time, I had to interrupt the speaker and announce to the audience that America was under attack, the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been hit by planes, and that we had to evacuate the building. 

Immediately after the announcement, the physicians left, but remained outside the building.  Most of the speakers stayed.  I arranged for one of the physicians to get a rental car to drive back to his home.  Later he told me that he rode back with four strangers and has remained friends ever since. 

After thirty minutes, we realized that there were no longer planes in the air and they let everyone back into the convention center.   

As the attendees filed back into the room, over half of the attendees remained, but we had to find speakers.  So calls went out to the speakers to ask them to come back. Since most were from out of town, this meant tracking them in their hotel rooms or finding them at the convention center.  We found roughly three-quarters of our speakers and they continued with their lectures. 

The most amazing part of this was, that despite all that had happened, the physicians were still dedicated to learning how to better treat their patients.  Their thirst for knowledge was immense.  Since most lived within 50 miles, they could have gone home to their loved ones, but they chose not to. 

Once we got our meeting going again, I was asked to join the larger discussion with Dr. Martin Leon.  We had to decide what to do for the rest of the week with the TCT meeting.  

Over the course of the day, we held several impromptu sessions with me, Dr. Bernard Hirsh and Marty on what do you do with 1,000 doctors who cannot get back to their families.  Many doctors were from out of the country.  And what about their patients?   

Watching Marty Leon in action, one saw a compassionate man who was weeping over this tragedy.  A tragedy that has affected us all as Americans.   

Here is a convention with 3,000 physicians from around the world and many of the speakers had yet to arrive, and as the day went on, it became clear that they were not going to get here.  So, they lived with what they had, and two days later, on September 13th TCT 2001 was held.  

After our conference was complete, late that evening on the walk back to our offices, downtown DC was empty.  There were tanks in the park across from our offices, and on the drive home, the White House looked very dark, as if all the lights to the outside were turned off. 

In spite of what happened, CME went on in DC, even on 9/11.  This brought home an amazing fact, you can attack America, but America will never stop working and promoting freedom. 

In honor of 9/11, this past week, our company, Rockpointe, produced a program titled, “War on Pain: Improving Interdisciplinary Pain Care for Combat Injured Military Personnel and Veterans for the OEF and OIF Conflicts.”  The program was made possible by a grant from Janssen Pharmaceuticals.   

Five hundred pain nurses attended this meeting, all giving up their evening to learn how to treat these returning veterans.  The program opened with the National Anthem and finished with an award to the family of a lost Army specialist in Iraq, who had lost his limbs and went on to play competitive hockey, but died of other complications last year.    In the end these nurses went away inspired and educated on how to treat returning veterans.

Let us not forget those we lost on 9/11 and let us keep working hard to take care of our veterans.

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