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Survivor Doc Writes Prescription For Emergencies

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Have you ever dreamed about being on Survivor?  Want to know how to increase your chances of winning? Read the new book Survivor First Aid.

Authored by Adrian Cohen -- the physician who oversees all the contestants participating in the
smash reality-series as well as all the Eco Challenges - the easy to understand survival guide tackles just about every possible emergency.

"The whole idea for the book was to put everything we've learned into a single text," says Cohen, who founded Emergency Assistants, an Australian emergency medicine company that teaches over 20 accredited course to paramedics, helicopter rescue specialists and ocean lifeguards.

The book, which is available at Survivor First Aid, has larger appeal because Cohen understands that there aren't many people willing eat rats for 39 days to survive or to sign up for a career in search and rescue. 

"Survivor First Aid also includes basic information that can help save your life at home and in the supermarket as well as once you leave your front door," he explains. "We've included the basics and all the wilderness medicine skills you'd need to do well on the show."

Cohen says the first and most important lesson in the book is that you should not panic given what is otherwise a difficult emergency.

"Somebody needs to be calm," Cohen advises. "Your chances of remaining calm are increased if you've done your homework and know what to do."

The second most important thing is CPR.

"The single most important way of saving a human life is to learn CPR," Cohen states. "It could be your loved one who needs it and we all would want the people around them to know what to do and how to perform CPR."

Outwit, Out-treat

Helping people survive is how Cohen makes his living. So how does someone become a survivor?

Simple: Be prepared.

"Our company motto is 'to expect the unexpected,'" Cohen says. "The most common mistake is that people think it can't happen to them so they go out unprepared and thinking, 'I'm only going out for a day by myself so I don't really need that much water, or a tent or heavy clothing because the weather looks nice right now. And I don't need to tell anyone where I'm going because I'm not going to be gone that long.'"

Cohen says that the person who thinks this way has just made several critical, potentially life-threatening mistakes, including:

  • You do need to take a buddy with you.
  • You do need to prepare for bad weather.
  • You do need warm clothes in case the weather changes.
  • You do need plenty of water.
  • You do need to tell people where you're going.
  • You do need to have the basics of first aid with you.

"And you need to have the knowledge in your head before leave the house," Cohen advises. "The more people understand these fundamentals; the less time we'll spend looking for people who get lost and injured."

Emergency medicine gets used more than you think -- both in the wilderness and right in your own backyard.

According to the American Hospital Association, Americans made over 500,000 visits to emergency rooms during the five-year period from 1996-2000.  The U.S. Coast Guard's statistics reveal an average of about 40,000 rescue cases annually.

Cohen deals with slightly smaller numbers -- 16 contestants and 400 crew members on every Survivor show.

"Over the course of six weeks of the show and six weeks of pre and post production we'll chronicle well over 1000 medical consultations," Cohen says. To handle all this medical treatment, Cohen employs two doctors, two nurses and two paramedics for each show.

"We see just about every contestant every day," Cohen says. "I have a fairly one-on-one relationship with all of them. You can see what's happening right in front of you. I have a very good relationship with Mark Burnett and he trusts that I won't jump in if someone has a sniffle, but I always have the right to intervene if I feel someone needs help. Fundamentally our job is to keep people in the show."

Survivor stories

Cohen says there have been instances where his team has had to intervene - one person was dehydrated and required an IV for re-hydration. "We've hospitalized a few people at various times but didn't take them out of the show."

While he's "put in a couple dozens stitches," coughs and colds, along with cuts and scrapes, are the most common ailment Cohen treats.

The most serious incident involved Survivor Australia contestant Michael Skupin receiving third degree hand burns. He was hospitalized three weeks at a burn unit in Brisbane.

"Michael's case was the most dramatic," Cohen recounts. "Fortunately, we had a plan in place already.  We had him air lifted by helicopter within five minutes and to a major hospital within an hour and then we moved him to Brisbane to insure he got very specialized treatment for his hands.  He's now 100% and made an amazing recovery. I think the good outcome is because we put all that planning into place before the show."

Part of that planning entails scouting locations months in advance in order to identify health risks - some potentially life-threatening to cast and crew.

"Malaria is very common to the areas we've been like Southeast Asia, Africa and the Amazon," Cohen states. "We advise people to take their antimalarial medication both before and after being in an area. Dengue fever is another concern. Schistomiasis is one that is found African subcontinent and is due to a worm that gets into the body and causes an infestation which may be undiscovered for many years. There are so many concerns that we have to watch out for and make sure people get vaccinated and take their medications."

But people do fall ill.

Original Survivor Susan Hawk got Dengue fever while reporting on Survivor Thailand.  Daniel Lue of Survivor Amazon returned to Houston and was stricken with malaria.  Like Hawk, he too recovered. Transmitted by mosquitoes, malaria travels through the blood stream and causes red blood cells to rupture. High fever and headache are often first symptoms.

"Chloroquine is still the mainstay of treatment for malaria and it is fairly effective," Cohen says. "There are also several medications that you can now take to prevent getting malaria. They are taken before, during, and up to four weeks after traveling. The medications vary depending on the type of malaria present in the areas you're traveling."

Cohen stresses that anticipating dangers and knowing what to do is what Survivor First Aid is all about.

"The book is written specifically from the perspective of the show," Cohen states. "In terms of being on the show and surviving the 39 days, the book will definitely help you.

If people read this book, they'll need to call for our help on location much less often."

And while Cohen's advice could win you a cool million on Survivor, it might also save your life back home.

• American Academy of Emergency Medicine

• Survivor First Aid

• Immediate Assistants

• Steve Irwin wrestles with travel health

• Mutombo rebounds from malaria

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 4/1/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

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