Medical doctor, orthopedic surgeon, and world expert in the field of treatment of cold injuries including frostbite and hypothermia.
Dr. William J. Mills, an orthopedic surgeon, has practiced medicine for the past 50 years. In that time he has distinguished himself as a world expert in the field of the treatment of cold injuries including frostbite and hypothermia.
Dr. Mills served with distinction as a torpedo boat captain in World War II, where he lost a leg due to injuries sustained on his boat. He graduated from Stanford University Medical School in 1949 and completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan in 1951. Dr. Mills again gave his professional talents in the service of his country by serving as a frontline physician in the conflict in Vietnam. In 1978, Dr. Mills retired from the United States Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral.
Although Dr. Mills has practiced medicine in many areas of the world, it is during his long tenure at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska where he gained unprecedented experience in the treatment of frostbite and hypothermia. As a result of his observations, scientific study, and pioneering spirit, Dr. Mills has become one of the classic giants of the cold injury world.
Dr. Mills single-handedly changed the standard of care for treatment of frostbite from slow thawing (a practice that even includes rubbing snow and/or ice on the injury) to rapid rewarming; a practice that greatly improves prognosis and has undoubtedly saved many limbs from amputation. This is no small accomplishment given the fact that the accepted standard of care for frostbite during much of the past 200 years, was to actively cool frostbitten tissue. Unfortunately this actually still occurs in some North American hospitals today. A second ground- breaking contribution followed observations by Dr. Mills that thawed tissue that should have survived (usually in the feet) inexplicably degenerated and was eventually lost. Dr. Mills finally theorized that the problem was an intense build up of pressure within the leg muscles, which cut off the circulation to the foot. He was the first to apply the technique of fasciotomy (surgically opening up skin and muscle tissue) to relieve the extreme build up in tissue pressure. This practice returned blood flow to the feet, thus salvaging tissue that would otherwise have been routinely lost. Although fasciotomy is commonly used for relief in other medical conditions, it was Dr. Mills who demonstrated the need for, and effectiveness of, this procedure for many frostbite cases.
Dr. Mills has also taught the world medical community about human physiology during whole body hypothermia. He was one of the first physician/scientists to fully describe the state of human physiology during severe hypothermia. He coined the term "metabolic icebox" which is a standard term now used around the world. Dr. Mills defined the standard of care for hypothermic victims in the hospital emergency room. Hence, it is now common practice to establish "full physiologic control" of a patient before any significant warming measures are taken. This practice has greatly decreased the incidence of death resulting from the initiation of vigorous in-hospital treatment without proper patient preparation.
Dr. Mills' status in the medical community is immense. He has written over 100 scientific/medical publications. As a testimony to his reputation, an entire issue of the journal Alaska Medicine was dedicated to Dr. Mills, with the issue containing only classic and new articles by Dr. Mills. Dr. Mills has also been acknowledged as the University of Manitoba Distinguished Lecturer in 1998 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2003. He has also been awarded numerous military, scientific and medical awards in his long career.
It is fitting that the University of Manitoba recognizes Dr. Mills for his lifetime achievements as a leader in cold injury medicine. At the san time the university itself is honoured by its association with this well known innovator.