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In the Pipeline: Pushing for change after tragedy

January 09, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Pete Conrad was the third man to walk on the moon during the Apollo 12 mission.
Pete Conrad was the third man to walk on the moon during… (Courtesy NASA,…)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first manned mission of Skylab, the first U.S. orbital space station.

Skylab 2, as it was called, set off to repair the space station, and was led by Cmdr. Peter Conrad. As you probably remember, Conrad was also the third man to walk on the moon, as commander of Apollo 12.

But did you know he was also a long time resident of Huntington Beach?

Recently, as my family and I drove down winding route 150 into Ojai, we were reminded of this great American hero. After all, it was on this road that the 69-year-old Conrad died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in July of 1999.

This memory made think me think about reaching out to his wife, Nancy, to learn more about this incredible man. And I'm so glad I did. I found out some amazing things not just about his life, but also the remarkable endeavors Nancy has undertaken in the wake of her terrible loss.

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You may know that Nancy penned the best selling book, "Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad's Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond," in the years after his death. But she also became an advocate as a result of how Conrad died, and her efforts have led to changes to how trauma victims are dealt with.

She lives in Washington, D.C., now, and we spoke just before she came back to Orange County this week to speak (along with President Bill Clinton) in Laguna Beach at the first Patient Safety, Science and Technology Summit.

Her husband had missions in space. Nancy's mission is to make sure more people don't die like her husband did, because as she explained, his death was preventable.

"Here's a guy who rides a man-rated bomb 240,000 miles from earth, spends his whole life in high performance systems built for safety and then dies a preventable death from a system failure — how does that happen?"

That system failure involved a small community hospital in Ventura County that was ill equipped, as many are, to deal with serious trauma. So Nancy decided to change things.

As she told me, "A few months after Pete died, a report came out from the Institute of Medicine that helped me start to understand the massive problems that can occur, the failure to rescue, the medical errors, safe blood use — all three things that happened to Pete.

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