Four general surgeons and three resident surgeons from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, treated patients through the night after the largest single-shooter massacre in American history Oct. 1, according to an Air Force press release.
“Within two hours after the incident, all the resuscitation bays were full and six patients were being operated on by trauma surgeons,” said Maj. Charles Chesnut, one of the general surgeons who assisted in the mass casualty treatment. “Everyone worked together taking care of these patients to do some good in the face of evil.
The surgeons, assigned to the 99th Medical Group, responded to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada to help treat more than 100 patients with surgical procedures and end-of-life care, Chesnut said. The hospital is Nevada’s only Level One trauma center.
“A lot of the injuries were gunshots to the chest,” Douglas R. Fraser, the hospital’s chief of trauma surgery, told the Washington Post. “Many did not require surgery but required chest tubes to the chest so they could breathe better. The other patients had surgery to remove holes to their bowels and intestines.”
The wounds were so similar to those seen in war that the hospital reached out for assistance from the Air Force trauma surgeons, who were participating in a visiting-fellow program there, according to the Post.
“The environment down there was controlled chaos, but the disaster response plan that the hospital had in place for a mass casualty worked,” said Chesnut. “At no point did I feel like our capacity was overwhelmed.”
At roughly 3 a.m., a second wave of patients were brought to UMC from smaller hospitals that lacked the capacity to treat the victims, according to the press release.
“Days like we experienced at UMC are the toughest ones, when you have multiple patients injured while multiple patients are continuing to come to the hospital,” said Col. Brandon Snook, a surgeon assigned to the 99th Medical Group. “Those are some of the toughest days, but also very rewarding. We all see a problem and do what we can to fix it to help out patients.”
By 7 a.m., the flood of patients had dwindled, and the hospital attendees were able to take stock in the aftermath.
“The acts of one person aren’t the acts of many,” said Chesnut. “That one man did terrible things to almost 600 people, but as we’ve seen in the days following, hundreds of people have done amazing things to recover.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.