Rise in Wake County gunshot victims takes toll on doctors, EMS workers

Jamiese Price Image
Saturday, June 3, 2023
Rise in Wake County gunshot victims takes toll on doctors, EMS workers
EMBED <>More Videos

"There is an emotional toll taken on the healthcare providers," says the head of WakeMed's trauma unit. Gunshot injuries among children have tripled

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Doctors describe gun violence as a public health emergency that should be treated like a crisis.

When a 911 call goes out and it's a shooting, the clock starts for Wake County EMS.

"We're looking at 10 minutes on scene at the max," said Wake County EMS District Chief Will Holland.

"We want to get off as fast as we can. Because the quicker we get someone to a trauma surgeon, the better chance they have of survival," he continued.

Holland has responded to his fair share of shootings and stabbings. There have been 64 so far this year. There were 192 in 2022.

"We are looking for a hole. We're also counting, was it one shot or two shots," continued Holland. "We don't really determine entry or exit wounds. We're trying to close the hole, stop the bleeding, secure their airways, manage their pain, and get them to the hospital as fast as possible."

READ MORE: Chapel Hill wears orange for Gun Violence Awareness Month

Once inside the ambulance, those life-saving measures continue and paramedics like Holland work to get the gunshot victims to the hospital.

"All the essential equipment that you need in the emergency room, we bring to the streets and then we get it from the streets to the doctor, " Holland said.

The patients are typically transported to WakeMed, where a full trauma team is prepared to handle the gunshot victims as the only Level-One trauma center in the county.

"As soon as the alert comes in from EMS, that we have a victim with a gunshot wound, the team is triggered and assembled in the emergency department even before the patient arrives," said Dr. Osi Udekwu, a trauma surgeon who leads the trauma unit at WakeMed.

"That team includes physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, and the CAT scanner is ready in the operating room, ready if we need it. So, everybody receives an alert," he continued.

Udekwu has been with WakeMed since 2002 when the hospital was treating 1,200 patients a year with all kinds of traumatic injuries to 5,000 now. Many are children.

READ MORE: Hillside High's stage production addressing youth violence draws attention from state officials

Last year, the hospital reported a 5% increase in firearm-related injuries.

"Gunshot wounds were fairly rare in this area, we had more stabbings than we had shootings. And now shootings outnumber stabbings significantly. The very worrisome thing though, is in the last year, firearm injuries between the ages of 1 and 18 have actually tripled," Udekwu said.

It's the shootings that leave children injured or dead that take an emotional toll on both the doctors and paramedics.

"There's no question about the fact that there is an emotional toll taken on the healthcare providers because they see there, they see their own children, or teenagers in these victims. And then it's impossible not to do that," Udekwu said.

Wake County EMS District Chief Avery Brown also reflected on a shooting call involving a child that still sticks with him

"Seeing the dad carry a body out. His helplessness was just, I felt his burden. I felt the heavy weight of him carrying that. And then the screams of the parents that it sticks with us," he described.

So, Brown like most medical providers finds ways to cope.

"We have each other. Who better to know the emotions than your co-workers or people in that industry with us dealing with those same calls?" Brown said.

They also have a psychologist available 24 hours a day.

At WakeMed, the hospital also has a trauma survivor network, which pairs former and current patients. The hospital is also launching a violence intervention program that will help shooting victims through community support and network once the patient is discharged from the hospital.