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James K Styner, MD, FACS is an orthopaedic surgeon, practicing in Lawndale, California. He was instrumental in the development of the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) program.


On February 17, 1976, Styner was flying from Los Angeles, California to return home to Lincoln, Nebraska after attending a wedding[1]. His wife, Charlene (32) and four children Christopher (10), Richard (8), Randal (7) and Kimberly (3). Styner piloted a 6-seat Beach Barron twin. They flew east, and landed in New Mexico to refuel. They continued through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In Nebraska, they intercepted a low, thin cloud layer. Styner stayed below the clouds. At five hours into the flight he became disoriented and lost altitude. They flew over a pond and into a row of trees at 168 miles per hour. Mrs. Styner was ejected from the airplane and killed instantly. Kimberly, Richard and Randal were unconscious from head injuries. Styner had fractured ribs and wounds to his head and face and a zygomatic fracture. His son Christopher had a fracture to the right forearm and a severe laceration to the right hand. The two of them were able to evacuate the unconscious children from the aircraft and Styner went to a nearby road and flagged down a car, which brought them to a local hospital a few miles south. The doctors at the hospital had little training in the management of serious trauma and Styner was particularly concerned that they did not make any attempt to protect the injured children's cervical spines. He called his partner Bruce Miller and they were evacuated by helicopter to Lincoln General Hospital.

Advanced Trauma Life Support course

Styner was very concerned at the lack of a system for treating trauma in the rural setting. He said later

"When I can provide better care in the field with limited resources than my children and I received at the primary facility, there is something wrong with the system and the system has to be changed."

He got together with several of his colleagues and in 1978 in Auburn, Nebraska the prototype Advanced Trauma Life Support course was held.


  1. The Birth of Advanced Trauma Life Support by James K. Styner, MD, Journal of Trauma Nursing, Vol. 13 No.2, April - June 2006
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