A great deal of attention has been paid to the administrative mismanagement of Devin Kelly’s files by the U.S. Air Force upon his separation, which was spurred by domestic assault convictions that should have barred his purchase of the firearms he used to kill 26 and injure 20 inside a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. However, that wasn’t the end of the military’s involvement in the shooting–as a number of the victims were transported to the nearby Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) for treatment, soldiers and airmen went above and beyond the call of duty to provide life saving treatment to a number of adults and children that were wounded in the attack. Army Col. (Dr.) Kurt Edwards said that,
When people heard about the shooting, we didn’t have to do a recall. People came in immediately and pitched in… not to watch, but to help. We ended up with more medical staff in the operating rooms, emergency department and [intensive care units] than we needed.”
Of the twenty injured in the attack, eight of the patients were sent to BAMC, including two children. The command was notified of the casualties coming in around thirty minutes before they arrived, giving the military staff ample opportunity to prepare. Many hospitals have procedures in place for mass casualty situations, but few are more experienced in the ordeal that military medical staff. Air Force Maj. Belinda Kelley, the shift leader that night in the ER, recalled,
We were told we were possibly getting quite a few patients after a shooting at a church. We weren’t sure how many were coming here, but were told there were potentially 30 shot. We started prepping for any eventuality to ensure adequate coverage. We opened up 15 trauma bays in preparation.”
Once the first four patients arrived, Edwards found his familiarity with the sort of casualties unsettling. With multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Col. Edwards had seen his fair share of wounds like those coming in from the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.
It was disheartening to see that the injuries were not dissimilar to those in combat. To see people who had been sitting in a church having similar injuries to those in a combat zone [is] not something you want to see.”
Since that dramatic day, one patient has recovered enough to be released, with the other seven currently ranging from good to critical. They will likely remain in the care of the military staff at BAMC until they’re fit for release. “They are all getting better,” Edwards noted.
Edwards went on to praise the effort and coordination demonstrated between the first responders, local hospitals and military personnel, citing their interoperability as one of the driving forces behind being able to save the lives of those they did, and keeping that day from turning even more tragic.
For Major Kelly, who works in the trauma center as a nurse, she continues to struggle with the emotion of the tragedy, but takes great pride in the work she and other service members are doing in the military’s only Level One trauma center. She said,
As a nurse, it’s a very emotional place, especially when I pick up the phone and someone is looking for a loved one. If I walk out of here and can’t cry, then I can’t come back, because that means I don’t care any more. Caring is what I do.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense