Doctor walks 6 miles in snowstorm to conduct emergency brain surgery

Birmingham, Alabama recently got hit with a severe snowstorm along with some icy conditions. Unprepared for this, traffic was incredibly snarled. Much of the news focused on the disaster in Atlanta, but it was really across the entire south.

Some people sat for hours, unable to go anywhere. Communications systems were overwhelmed, cell phones faded in and out, emergency numbers were swamped. It was a nightmare for those there who were stuck in the unfamiliar conditions.

At about 10 AM, the Trinity Medical Center got a patient into its ER who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. The ER doctors realized that the young man would almost surely die without emergency brain surgery (they gave him a 90% chance of dying without it). The problem: their only neurological surgeon was at a neighboring hospital about 6 miles away, and traffic had ground to a standstill because of the freak winter storm.

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Dr. Hrynkiw.

They called the Brookwood Medical Center and managed to reach Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw, their neurosurgeon. He agreed to leave immediately. He began the drive, but realized that the traffic was incredibly snarled. He called Trinity and said, “I’m not getting anywhere in this. I’m walking.” He abandoned his car and began walking along the snow-covered roads in the 20- degree weather.

Hrynkiw said that he knew that the patient would die without the emergency surgery, and that wasn’t going to happen “on my watch.” Trinity had tried to contact local police and paramedics to see if they could give Dr. Hrynkiw a ride. But because of traffic and communications problems, they couldn’t reach Brookside.

Shortly after, Trinity was unable to raise the doctor on his cell phone. Trinity again contacted the police who attempted to search the area hoping to find the aging doctor trudging to Trinity. They were unsuccessful.

At one point, Dr. Hrynkiw managed to contact the medical center, and Trinity managed to send him the patient’s CT scan, which he reviewed while on his trek.

After about a two hour walk, the phone in the neurointensive care unit rang. Hrynkiw said to the charge nurse, “I’m walking in the door. Where’s the patient?” The patient, who had already been prepped, was readied for surgery.

The neurosurgeon spoke with the family, and then took the patient to the OR. Steve Davis, the charge nurse at the neurointensive care unit, said to Hrynkiw, “You’re a good man.” The neurosurgeon said that he was “just doing his job.” Later, during a press conference, Hrynkiw added, “It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

The patient survived the surgery and was in stable condition, recovering post-op.

Davis says that Dr. Hrynkiw is on call at the hospital about 330 days per year. He is apparently a dedicated and low profile man. Several news agencies tried to contact him for follow up interviews, but were told that he was in surgery.

More from the local news:


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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