Julie Workman hid under a pew with her son when gunman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017. Her son, 34-year-old Kris Workman, was eventually shot in the back and is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Recounting the horrific experience on Friday night at the St. Anthony Hotel, Workman and her son told attendees of the Texas Lyceum Conference on the state of healthcare in Texas, that communities need to do more to prepare for mass casualty situations.
“We are not going to be able to prevent the evil behind the trigger, and for those people we are going to have to prepare for and train,” Workman, a trained operating room nurse, said.
The panel, moderated by Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard, included a presentation on the Stop the Bleed campaign, an educational effort aimed at preparing the public to save lives by raising awareness about basic actions they can take to stop life-threatening bleeding, including applying pressure to the wound.
Victims can die from uncontrolled bleeding within five to 10 minutes, Workman said, noting that it took 15 minutes from the time she called 911 for emergency responders to arrive at First Baptist Church. When anyone suffers a trauma that results in bleeding, like a shooting, the first steps to saving lives are applying tourniquets, packing wounds, and applying pressure to stop or slow the bleeding.
Panelist Mark Muir, trauma surgeon at University Hospital, said that the number one thing that prevents people from being proactive during an emergency is feeling helpless. The Stop the Bleed campaign educates people on how to apply a tourniquet to a wounded body part so the person has a better chance of survival until medical help arrives.
“If someone has severe arterial hemorrhaging they will bleed out; it is up to the person standing next to them to stop [the bleeding]” if they are physically able, Muir said. While everyone typically thinks about what first responders can and will do, they forget that the community can also respond to the event, he said, noting that his wife and two children all carry tourniquets on their person at all times.
Eric Epley, panelist and executive director at the South Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) – which maintains the regional trauma and emergency healthcare system for 22 counties – said that while Texas is “pretty well prepared” to address potential mass casualty situations, “until everyone knows how to stop the bleed, we aren’t prepared.”
“Personal responsibility and responsibility toward others – that’s what saves lives,” Epley, former Air Force flight paramedic, said. Having bleeding kits available throughout cities and as part of first aid kits will help people have a better chance to live, he said.
The Stop the Bleed campaign was started in Oct. 2015 in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting which left 20 children ages 6- to-7-years old dead. It has remained the fourth deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history since that time.
The 2017 Las Vegas shooting, resulting in 59 deaths, ranks number one.
Panelist and Children’s Bereavement Center South Texas Director Bert Pfiester said on Friday that he felt helpless when learning about the Sutherland Springs shooting. “I felt for the first time that there was nothing that I could do other than pray,” he said.
While it is important to address how mental health plays a role in the actions of a shooter, Pfiester said, preparing people for emergencies would also benefit the mental health of bystanders if they ever found themselves in such a position.
Workman echoed this sentiment, saying that while she had been through many emergency situations at work, standing in the worship room at her church and being shot at repeatedly is something that she would have never expected.
“I feel lucky that I had the knowledge that I did, and even then it was hard to grasp what was going on,” Workman said. “Teaching people how to respond to trauma will help them and also help others,” she said.
On Saturday at the UT Health San Antonio simulation lab at University Hospital, doctors were guided through scenarios where bystanders who knew how to apply a tourniquet became the difference between life and death for patients who arrived in the emergency room.
“Until everyone knows how to stop the bleed – we aren’t prepared. Until we have a functioning trauma center in every city, we are not prepared. Until we have more access to mental health treatment – we are not prepared,” Epley said. “If we all know how to stop the bleed – people will have a better chance to survive.”