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dimickpic 2Alan R. Dimick, M.D., was honored by the UAB Retirees Association for his pioneering work in burn care and his service to UAB. The UAB Retirees Association (UABRA) honored Alan R. Dimick, M.D., at its May 15 meeting with a $5,000 gift to the Alan R. Dimick Burn Care Fund, which supports the work of the UAB Burn Unit. The UAB Burn Unit is a nationally recognized leader in the treatment of burn-related injuries. Its expert team is committed to providing the highest-quality patient care, educating the next generation of surgeons, and conducting groundbreaking research with the goal of advancing therapies for burn care.

A Workplace Accident that Changed Everything

April 23, 2016, was not your average workday for Donnell Cathren. A Tampa native and member of the U.S. Air Force, Cathren works as an electrical engineer traveling between Air Force bases in need of an electrician. On this day, he was called to Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to rewire electrical panels in a dining hall. When he was rewiring the panels, an electrical cable and a transformer connected to the panel exploded in his hand. He was taken to the local military base hospital, but Cathren was in need of specialized burn care. That same night he was flown to UAB, where he was met by a specialized care team at the UAB Burn Unit.

Donnel 2 use this oneDonnell Cathren, right, received life-changing care at the UAB Burn Unit. 

Cathren’s entire family came to UAB to stay with him during his hospitalization, including his wife Tanisha. “Nearly 25 percent of the left side of his body was burned, but specifically his face and arm,” she says. “From the moment we arrived at the UAB Burn Unit, we were embraced by a supportive and compassionate team. We felt involved every step of the way and knew exactly what to expect during his recovery. The UAB Burn Unit served as our home away from home, and we are both sincerely thankful for the care Donnell has received.” Now home in Tampa, he is receiving both physical and occupational therapy, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Throughout the years, many people have helped elevate the UAB Burn Unit, but none was more influential than Dr. Dimick, who practiced general surgery at what is now UAB Hospital from 1963 to 1999. He also served as director of the hospital’s Emergency Department from 1963 to 1974, during which time he founded the UAB Burn Unit and served as its director until 1997.

Dr. Dimick’s interest in burns was sparked when then Surgery Chair Champ Lyons, M.D., asked him to learn more about burn care, prompting Dr. Dimick to attend the National Burn Seminar in 1963. In 1967, he hosted the eighth National Burn Seminar in Birmingham, where the American Burn Association (ABA) was established. Today the ABA is the premier national organization dedicated to stimulating and supporting burn-related research, education, care, rehabilitation, and prevention.

In 1963, Dr. Lyons also challenged Dr. Dimick to combine the segregated black and white emergency rooms at University Hospital. As director of the hospital’s Emergency Department during a time of racial turmoil in Birmingham, Dr. Dimick witnessed one of the darkest moments in American history: On Sept. 15, 1963, he pronounced the four little black girls dead who were horrifically injured in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Since improved pre-hospital emergency care is critical for patients’ survival and rehabilitation, Dr. Dimick became a passionate advocate for it, especially with regard to burn patients. In 1972, Dr. Dimick became medical director of a federal grant that provided funds for emergency medical training for 33 firefighters in the fire departments of Birmingham, Homewood, and Vestavia Hills. These 33 firefighters were the first paramedics in Alabama. Since then, the paramedic program has spread and now covers the state. Subsequently, Dr. Dimick was the medical director of the paramedic training program at the UAB Regional Technical Institute from 1973 to 1985. His influence can still be felt in the Birmingham Emergency Medical Services community today. He currently serves on the board of the Birmingham Regional Emergency Medical Services System, the organization responsible for the overall coordination of and improvements in the pre-hospital emergency medical care of a seven-county region.

051016BurnUnit16 ACDonnell Cathren, right, undergoes rehabilitation at the UAB Burn Unit.

Dr. Dimick’s dedication to excellence in education and compassion for burn patients helped create the structure and values of the UAB Burn Unit. Patients come to UAB to receive highly specialized care that is only offered at few other health care centers. As the state’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, UAB treats more than 430 burn patients each year. Through educating the next generation of surgeons and advancing burn care research, the UAB Burn Unit helps ensure that burn patients get the care that is so critical to their recoveries.

For those who would like to honor Dr. Dimick's memory and dedication to trauma care, the Alan R. Dimick Burn Care Fund, which directly supports the UAB Burn Unit, is a wonderful outlet to do so. Please click here if you wish to donate.

By Jane Longshore