• September 18, 2019

How MCH handled a tragedy - Odessa American: Local News

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How MCH handled a tragedy

Surgeon: Take action, make the world better

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2019 5:22 pm

An orthopedic surgeon said a typical work day in West Texas can involve treating a number of patients in automobile crashes and severe injuries caused from accidents in the oilfield, but when a mass shooting takes place first responders and medical staff have to work together as a united front to save lives.

Dr. Benjamin Cunningham works at Medical Center Hospital and was operating on a patient’s leg when he heard about the shooting taking place in Odessa on Aug. 31.

“Anyone who is killing people is not a friend of ours and so we knew there would be a lot of problems,” he said.

Seven people were killed and 25 others injured when 36-year-old Seth Ator went on a shooting spree around mostly northeast Odessa. Some victims were sent to Midland Memorial and ORMC but most landed at MCH.

After Cunningham completed the surgery, he headed downstairs to the emergency room. Trauma surgeons and doctors began to triage and assign degrees of urgency to patients’ gunshot wounds. Three operating rooms were available for use.

The surgeon said despite already being in the mindset to treat severe injuries, a sense of dread and concern hit harder while navigating the aftermath of the shooting.

“We quickly had a discussion and prioritized which patients might go first so the general process is that if someone is going to die or is close to dying they usually get very high priority,” Cunningham said. “Then in that order, if they’re going to lose a limb or something of that nature, they get a priority that is higher as well. We obviously want to save people’s lives first and then try to save their arms and legs if we can.”

Cunningham said he could not make a comparison to the events that transpired with the tragedy to anything else he had experienced in his 20-year career.

“We will have days where there will be eight open fractures, eight mangled extremities or those kinds of things,” he said. The ER does get that busy so I have seen that over the years, but the distinction was that everything was hypercritical.”

The damage caused by the high-velocity bullets created severe wounds for the majority of patients. Ator used an AR-15 in the deadly shooting spree.

“Those tend to really destroy the tissue, so they’re pretty severe,” Cunningham said. “The other issues like people getting shot in the stomach and the chest and the heart are also common, we see those, but it’s unusual to have everyone at the same time coming in with those kinds of injuries.”

He said the flood of patients all at once was a unique characteristic of the situation that was eased with the tremendous work carried out by first responders.

“When the patients came in they were really well contained and I think the tourniquets helped a lot of people from potentially bleeding to death,” he said.

Cunningham said amid a chaotic environment everyone did their part. He said being able to have the capacity to do something about the problems in this world is therapeutic for many medical professionals.

“I think the frustrations of things like this mass murder is that there’s not much you can do to prevent something like this and there’s not much you can do to stop bad things, but at least there’s a way you can take action and make the world better,” he said.

Lupita Barajas, a nurse at MCH, was called that evening to see if she could lend an extra set of hands at the hospital. She said although she was scared, she felt like it was her duty.

Barajas normally works on a floor with oncology or hospice patients and had only been in her role for just under a year when the shooting took place.

“I could have said no,” she said, but “with nursing in general, you want to be able to impact someone’s life in a positive way and just being able to change someone’s life in even the slightest with something small is really one of the reasons why I became a nurse.”

She said her brother and her boyfriend were at Best Buy during the mass shooting.

“What if that was my family,” she said. “I would want someone to give their everything to help save them or just help relieve the pressure off of someone else who is taking care of them.”

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