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Safety experts say a flick of a switch would save lives on NSW roads

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The patient arrived with 10 gaping wounds and "a bruised brain, eight or nine broken ribs, blood in the chest, bruised lungs, multiple fractures of the pelvis, a broken femur, a broken ankle, a broken shoulder, a broken collar-bone", says Professor Zsolt Balogh, the director of trauma surgery at the John Hunter Hospital and Hunter New England Local Health District.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said that war was the only proper school of the surgeon. But NSW's true war zone is the "road carnage" seen at John Hunter Hospital's trauma centre, says Professor Balogh, the surgeon in charge of the state's busiest trauma centre. "When you see these injuries you don't need to go to war, " he says. "We don't see shrapnel or gunshot wounds, but the experience in a busy trauma section from car crashes can be extraordinary."

Professor Balogh in the operating room at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital on Thursday.
Professor Balogh in the operating room at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital on Thursday.  Photo: Alyssa Faith

For 12 years, Balogh has treated about 500 patients a year at John Hunter, patients at high risk of dying in hospital as a result of trauma, very often as a result of speeding on regional highways including the Oxley, the New England and the Pacific. With his team, he treats nearly everyone severely injured in high-speed crashes from Newcastle to Ballina and Armidale.

Patients like the one who he treated may survive the initial crash only to die when their organs start to fail a few days later under the stress of the injury.

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