TREATING THE VICTIMS OF A SENSELESS ACT
Members of University Hospital’s trauma team got the alert from Medcom on a Sunday afternoon in November: Prepare for the arrival of large numbers of victims from a mass shooting in the small town of Sutherland Springs, about 30 miles southeast of Bexar County.
A gunman had systematically opened fire on congregants of the First Baptist Church, killing 26 people and injuring 20. Nine of those 20 patients
— five adults and four children — were brought to University Hospital. Another eight were taken to the region’s other Level I trauma center, Brooke Army Medical Center.
In one sense, it was fortunate that a team of reviewers from the American College of Surgeons was at University Hospital on that day in connection with a renewal of its Level I trauma center designation. Seven trauma surgeons were present to meet with them — an unusually large number for a Sunday. Those surgeons, working with a highly trained and experienced team of nurses and technical staff — were ready to treat the patients as they arrived.
Many members of the trauma team are former military members with combat experience. The team had also trained for mass casualties. Even so, the number of injured, the savagery of the attack involving high-velocity ammunition, and that so many of the victims were children, weighed heavily on the team. So did the fact the shootings took place in a house of worship.
One young patient died after reaching the hospital. Others required multiple surgeries.
The following day, Dr. Brian Eastridge, chief of trauma and emergency surgery, stood in University Hospital’s lobby before more than a dozen local, national and even international news cameras. A news conference had been planned for weeks to honor a group of San Antonio Fire Department first responders who had saved the life of a young man shot three months earlier, using hemorrhage control methods that the trauma team had been working to teach people from all walks of life as part of the Stop the Bleed campaign.
The idea behind Stop the Bleed is that in a mass casualty situation, bystanders with a few basic skills can keep the badly injured from bleeding to death until help can arrive.
“As yesterday’s terrible shooting in Sutherland Springs show us — along with the many other mass casualty events that occur much too often throughout our country — we can never know when these important skills will be needed to save lives,” Dr. Eastridge said.
Other trauma centers across the country that had experienced similar mass casualty events sent food and messages of support to our trauma team. Dozens of physicians and staff from the Medical Center of Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in 2012, signed a large banner that read: “Our (hearts) are with you.”
Ordinary people also stepped forward. More than 300 local members of our community — compelled to help in the wake of that senseless act — showed up throughout the week to roll up their sleeves to donate blood.