(TNS) — The last time Broward Health System hospitals ran a drill, it was to prepare for an active shooter. They called in all the surgeons who were available, anesthetists and other medical staff and set up the trauma bays to receive mass casualties with gunshot wounds.
On Wednesday afternoon, doctors at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach and Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale saw their drills turn into reality as 16 people were rolled into the two emergency rooms from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student opened fire and killed 17 people.
“We are lucky that they were prepared,” said Dr. Jerry Brooks, chief medical officer of emergency services for Broward Health System. “[The victims had] penetrating wounds to the body, the torso, the chest and extremities. That’s what we were expecting and that was the majority of the patients.”
Among the 15 victims who were taken to the two hospitals, two died at Broward Health North. The shooter was also treated there, then released to a police escort.
As of Thursday afternoon, nine victims remained hospitalized.
Three victims had been discharged from Broward Health North, Brooks said. Three remained at the hospital. Two were in fair condition — one with an extremity wound and one with a gunshot wound to the chest, he said. The third remains in critical condition and has a breathing tube.
At Broward Health Medical Center General, Dr. Benny Menendez said seven victims were received — the oldest is 17 —and one was discharged. Of the six who remain, some sustained multiple gunshot wounds, but all are expected to recover, Menendez said, with no indication that there will be any paralysis or amputation.
On Thursday, family and friends of the victims trickled into both hospitals. At Broward North, one family of four donned burgundy Marjory Stoneman Douglas High T-shirts and bowed their heads as they entered the hospital, all of them crying.
Nickole Delgado, 15, arrived at Broward Health Medical Center about 8:30 a.m. Thursday to visit her boyfriend, a 15-year-old freshman at Stoneman Douglas, who she said was being treated for multiple gunshot wounds. Delgado was told her boyfriend was in stable condition.
But she goes to a different area high school and heard about the shooting at Stoneman Douglas from her mother.
“I was nervous because he goes to that school. I was trying to talk to him, but he didn’t answer,” she said. “I got more nervous when I heard they took him here because it meant it was serious.”
Delgado tried to visit Wednesday night but said the hospital was on lockdown. She returned Thursday morning with friends, only to be turned away again for not knowing his room number.
Delgado said she doesn’t know the extent of her boyfriend’s injuries. Nor does she know exactly where he was within the school when he was shot.
“Yesterday was weird because I can’t believe it actually happened to him,” she said.
In the ER
Brooks said doctors had about a 30-minute window between when the code green — indicating a mass casualty disaster — was sounded and the first patients started coming in. The most severe were taken to the ER first, he said.
“As fate would have it, they didn’t all arrive at one time,” Brooks said. “They had to search the school and it took time, and that time to search the school allowed more of a metered kind of response ... which is better for our patients.”
One ER employee at Broward Health General called the chaos that ensued as victims were rolled in complete “craziness.”
The doctors already had practice handling a mass casualty incident: during the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2016. They had also learned from other recent mass shootings, including the massacre at a concert in Las Vegas in October.
Brooks said the hospitals “ramped up” with exercises and code green drills after the Fort Lauderdale shooting. The system’s medical directors were trained to have a plan, but to be ready to adjust it, as the situation changes.
“We can’t predict when the next mass casualty will occur but we’re always trying to stay ahead of the curve and learning,” Brooks said.
Helping the victims
Some people visited the hospitals Thursday because they wanted to help.
Johnnie Young, a general manager at Duffy’s in Deerfield Beach, brought more than 100 wings, sandwiches, chips and salsa for Broward Health North hospital staff, the victims and their families. Fernando Triana, who was visiting South Florida from Ecuador, came asking where he could donate blood for victims. He is O-positive, though blood banks are seeking donors who are O-negative.
“I thought of my kids immediately [after the shooting],” Triana said. “I have always donated. I wanted to do something if I could.”
At Broward Health Medical Center, Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited victims of the shooting Wednesday afternoon. Scott spent about an hour with the wounded and their families. Afterwards he told reporters outside the hospital that the students are “optimistic” and all say they are receiving outstanding care.
“They lost some of their friends. They’re sad. In my case, I’m mad. I’m mad that this happens,” Scott said. “I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure this doesn’t happen in our state again, and I don’t want it to happen in our country again.”
He said next week lawmakers will meet to see what they can do about “school safety and making sure that somebody that has mental illness does not have access to a gun.”
A staff member in diagnostic imaging who declined to give his name said the hospital had been busy Wednesday as medical personnel attended to the victims.
“It’s a tragic thing — especially for me because I’m a father. And to know that something like that happened in such a good area of Florida. I’m just glad we are here to help them out. This is a good hospital, a trauma hospital,” he said.
At a cafeteria at Broward Health Medical, a Michigan family waited for news of their teenage son, who was among those injured in the shooting. They’ve been in the area for only a couple of years, they said, after moving from the Midwest for the father’s job. They said they picked Parkland because it was supposed to be a safe area with good schools — and close to the hockey rink.
“It was supposed to be good and safe,” the teen’s mother said. “But this can happen anywhere.”
Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH
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