Pittsburgh trauma surgeon: “Stop the Bleed” training saved lives after shooting, but stopping the need must be next

Stop the Bleed
In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the “Stop the Bleed” program emerged as a way to empower the public to act as immediate responders. Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a trauma surgeon at the Hartford Hospital, recognized that the skills and tools to stop bleeding could not help when confined to a hospital setting during a mass casualty or intentional mass injury event.

That’s because a person can bleed to death in as little as five minutes, and thus time is critical in bleeding control.

Jacobs led the effort to create Stop the Bleed, a program to enhance survivability after such events. It is an initiative of the American College of Surgeons and the Hartford Consensus, and it seeks to promote the message that anyone can save a life.

Supported by the White House, Stop the Bleed originated in October 2015 with the goal of making education on bleeding control as common as CPR training.

Stop the Bleed teaches basic bleeding control techniques and provides tools, such as wound packing and tourniquets, to the general public should they need to respond to life-threatening bleeding.

Pittsburgh had prepared for such an event
Having faced intentional mass injury events in the Pittsburgh region, both in schools and our own hospital system, our team of trauma surgeons immediately began to push this public health initiative.

Through generous philanthropic support by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a partnership with the Copeland Regional Trauma Council, we embarked upon the ambitious task of teaching Stop the Bleed throughout the region, with a goal of providing a tourniquet to every law enforcement officer and a bleeding control kit in every public school building.

We recognized that teachers and law enforcement are frequently the immediate responders to horrific events such as shootings, and we sought to empower those people with the tools and techniques to save a life. The program has grown rapidly in our region, with over 37,000 people trained, over 500 bleeding control kits distributed, and over 9,000 tourniquets provided to law enforcement officers, including the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Pennsylvania State Police.

My trauma colleagues and I estimate that tourniquets applied by police officers and emergency medical services at the scene of the massacre at Tree of Life saved the lives of at least three victims.

Synagogue members in Squirrel Hill asked for training
Early in our regional initiative, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation recognized the critical importance of Stop the Bleed.

In a forward thinking and proactive manner, they supported the training of the Jewish community and purchased bleeding control kits for every synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh.

I vividly remember teaching the classes at synagogues in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I would lead every class with the disclaimer that we hoped this training would never be necessary but that the community needed to be prepared.

Finding that some members of the public were at times overwhelmed by the training, I would frequently take my 9-year-old son along with me. Volunteering his time to teach and understand the issues was a valuable lesson for him, but it also provided strong evidence that “everyone” can indeed save a life by having a young child expertly demonstrate the basic skills of bleeding control. My son taught with me in Squirrel Hill synagogues, and while he taught community members how to apply tourniquets, they taught him about their place of worship, their community and their faith.

When I finally returned home from the hospital the night of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, I faced the challenge that all parents faced that day: how to explain what happened to my young child. With more resilience and poise than I could maintain, he asked me important questions. He asked me if this had happened where he had taught Stop the Bleed.

I said yes.

He asked me whether Stop the Bleed had helped people. I said yes.

He asked whether people had died. Through tears, I told him that many had.

And then the question to which I had no simple answer: “Daddy, why wasn’t Stop the Bleed enough to help them?”

Matthew D. Neal is Roberta G. Simmons Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation.