September 11, 2001, the day that came to be known simply as 9/11 — the day that 2,977 people died in the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history.
TV news footage captured much of what happened: two hijacked airliners plowing into both towers at the World Trade Center in New York, another plane flown into the Pentagon, and still another huge civilian aircraft, apparently headed for the White House or U.S. Capitol, crashing into an empty Pennsylvania field after passengers heroically fought back against their hijackers.
Tens of thousands of young Americans, including a teenage Stephanie Streit, who was then a senior at Badin High School in Hamilton, Ohio, would later say what they saw happening on 9/11 was the driving force in their decision to join the military.
“It had a huge impact on me,” said Lt. Col. Streit, who is now an Air Force physician headquartered at Nellis Air Force Base in and an assistant professor at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV. “I wanted to be someone who could help in times of crisis, who could do something about all of the suffering I saw on TV. Ultimately, that’s why I joined the Air Force and became a trauma surgeon.
"We are extremely uniquely positioned to help the most vulnerable people in their greatest time of need. No one chooses their trauma surgeon. No one plans on meeting me.”
Lt. Col. Jeremy Kilburn, a pulmonary and critical care physician who directs the office of military medicine at the medical school, says Streit is one of 42 Air Force physicians who are part of a unique civilian/military medical partnership with the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine. While unpaid by the school, active duty military medical professionals are given the opportunity to maintain proficiency in their medical specialties.
“It’s the biggest program of its kind in the nation,” said Kilburn. “It provides an avenue to help doctors maintain their clinical abilities for that sudden change from peacetime responsibilities to the urgency of a wartime deployment.”
Dr. Douglas Fraser, the school’s division chief of trauma surgery and program director of the acute care surgery (ACS) fellowship, said Streit, the trauma medical director at Nellis, has displayed her value to the entire community as a teacher and surgeon.
“She is very much in charge in the trauma bay,” said Fraser, who is also the medical director of the UMC Trauma Center. “Often surrounded by oversized firefighters and paramedics, Streit makes it very clear she is in charge and does the right thing for the patient at the right time.”
Fraser points to Streit’s past surgical performance for the military during the U.S. war in Afghanistan as an asset in the teaching of residents and fellows, particularly in addressing how best to identify life-threatening injuries that require immediate supervision. And he noted that her work with UMC Trauma Center, including her surgical care of patients in the aftermath of the 1 October 2017 mass shootings on the Strip, is the “epitome of an ever-ready, hard-working, multi-faceted acute care surgeon.”
A graduate of Miami University in Ohio, Streit did her medical training through a scholarship provided by the Air Force. In 2010, she received her MD from the University of Cincinnati. She then completed her surgical residency at the Medical University of South Carolina before returning to the University of Cincinnati to complete her surgical critical care fellowship. In 2017 she joined the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine as part of the large military-civilian partnership the medical school has with UMC.
Streit told her hometown newspaper in Ohio, the Journal-News, that on 1 October 2017 she learned of the mass shooting through Twitter. When she drove near UMC, police officers were clearing the way for emergency vehicles carrying more than 100 shooting victims. Initially, officers tried to redirect her out of the area. But when she flashed her hospital badge and explained she was a surgeon, they yelled “Go, go, go!”
She described the scene at the hospital as “controlled chaos,” with patients doubled-bunked in a trauma emergency room. Wanting to help victims as soon as possible, she calmly asked: “What’s your name, and where’s the hole?” From 11:30 p.m. Oct. 1 until 12:30 p.m. Oct. 2, she provided medical care that helped keep patients alive. After driving home to take a shower, she returned to the hospital to complete paperwork.
During her years of training, Streit said she always wondered whether she could do what she needed to do in a stressful mass casualty situation. “If anything positive came out of this misery for me as an individual,” she told a reporter, “it’s the knowledge that I can do the job, that I have what it takes, that I can be there to help try to make things better.”
She shared her memories of that night with students at her old high school in Ohio. Today, she talks little about it. “I am still in touch with two of my patients from that night and they are still struggling to move on. I would like to help them by moving on with my own narrative.”
Time in Afghanistan
Less than a year after working on the victims of the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Streit found herself performing surgeries in Afghanistan, the site of America’s longest war. “We lived and worked in the hospital. Some weeks we didn’t have much to do and I taught myself to knit. Some weeks we were so busy that I didn’t leave the building for seven days.”
For a military publication, she wrote an essay that read in part: “It wasn’t all trauma, all the time. There was, for instance, an American contractor with Fournier’s gangrene, and another with an aortic dissection. There was the Afghan woman with chorioamnionitis, and the Afghan man with stage III melanoma. Just like at home, there was very little predictability in my day.”
In 2019, Streit received the Physician of the Year Award from the Air Force Medical Service, selected as the top-performing physician in the rank of major, lieutenant colonel, or colonel.
Fraser couldn’t be happier that Dr. Streit returned to Las Vegas when her stint in Afghanistan concluded in 2019:
“When tragedy struck Las Vegas on 1 October 2017, Dr. Streit used her military training to coordinate efforts of all our military surgeons who came to the rescue that day to serve our patients in need. Since then she has made significant contributions to our trauma center and ACS Fellowship program through a heavy clinical volume, participation in educational conferences, recruiting new fellows during interview season, contributing to our ongoing research effort, and taking the time to mentor and coach all of our residents and fellows on the acute care surgery service…We are a better trauma center due to her continued contributions.”