Dr. Jonathan Eliason: Veteran and vascular surgeon

"I would never trade my experience in the military"


Dr. Jon Eliason with a patient at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. He credits his time in the Air Force for strengthening his skills as a vascular surgeon.

Jonathan Eliason always dreamed of becoming a doctor. His quest to make that dream come true led him to the military, where a Health Professions Scholarship Program would pay for medical school. In return, Dr. Eliason would spend three years in active duty in his chosen field — an obligation he was prepared to fulfill.

What he wasn’t prepared for was his life-changing experience with patients and military colleagues, which he says have made him a stronger surgeon and a better doctor. And, despite the dangers of serving overseas, Dr. Eliason says, “I would never trade my experience.”

After training to become a surgeon at Vanderbilt Medical Center and completing a two-year fellowship at the University of Michigan (2002-2004), Dr. Jonathan Eliason began his military service at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. A few years later (2006 -2007), he was deployed to active duty in Iraq.

Dr. Eliason describes his patients as “profoundly grateful” — whether they were military retirees from World War II, whom he treated at the base, or deployed military troops in Iraq.

He says the relationships he established with fellow servicemen on the battlefield were far different from those in a U.S. civilian medical facility. “You build relationships that are very strong because you’re in an austere environment and you’re depending on one another. Many of my Air Force buddies are lifetime friends,” he says.

Eliason_Blog2-11-11Dr. Eliason believes his service in Iraq made him a stronger vascular surgeon. “This isn’t something you are exposed to in the U.S. When you’re deployed overseas during wartime, you encounter and treat injury patterns you otherwise wouldn’t see.”

Another experience Dr. Eliason is thankful for was the opportunity to be an early part of helping introduce minimally invasive vascular surgery techniques to the battlefield. “This was part of the first wave of treating troops with sophisticated imaging in vascular surgery using minimally invasive techniques,” he says.

Dr. Eliason’s military work has driven his ongoing commitment to research. Through his collaborative work with the Institute for Surgical Research in San Antonio and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (previously Wilford Hall Medical Center), located on the grounds of Lackland Air Force Base, he is helping to develop a minimally invasive aortic balloon system to limit hemorrhage and increase blood flow to the heart and brain. The device is aimed at saving lives by controlling hemorrhage on the battlefield and getting the injured soldier to a hospital for definitive surgical treatment.

The device is currently in the preclinical development phase and if all works as planned, Dr. Eliason says, “could have a direct benefit for our troops and save lives.”

Dr. Eliason describes his commitment to research aimed at preventing deaths on the battlefield as his way of “giving back to the military and to those who serve our country.”

Take the next step:

  • Read about Dr. Michael Seyffert, a veteran lieutenant colonel and flight surgeon in the the Air National Guard, on biggest brain-related challenges facing veterans

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.