Amid a violent year in Baltimore, the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center is spearheading a local initiative to teach health care workers and members of the public how to use critical care skills to stop life-threatening bleeding.
The “Stop The Bleed” campaign began in 2015 as a national effort to provide bystanders with training for emergency situations, said Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Shock Trauma. It was partly a response to an autopsy review of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which revealed about 30 percent of the children who died during the attack may have survived if pressure had been applied to their wounds.
The effort has particular relevance and urgency in Baltimore given the city’s gun violence crisis. This year has been one of the deadliest in the city’s history; nearly 87 percent of the 212 homicides so far have involved a shooting.
The trauma center in partnership with the Maryland Committee on Trauma, will begin a series of bleeding-control training sessions this fall that will be free to the public.
Scalea said it’s not unusual for him to see people arrive at Shock Trauma that have bled to death from an otherwise treatable injury. Too often, he added, he finds himself saying, “If we had just gotten there five minutes earlier — if we had just been able to stop this hemorrhage in the streets — that kid didn’t have to die.”
Bleeding from a major artery can cause death in as little as three to five minutes, said Dr. Jason Pasley, a surgeon and lead physician for the Stop The Bleed campaign at Shock Trauma. The technique to treat these wounds before they become fatal, however, is relatively simple.
When someone is bleeding profusely, the first step is to see if there’s a first-aid kit or tourniquet nearby, Pasley said. If there is no tourniquet available, the person providing aid can use a clean cloth to pack the wound, such as a shirt, scarf or tablecloth — or as a last resort, their hands — to apply steady, direct pressure until trained health care personnel arrive.
Controlling the bleeding in this manner helps blood stay in a person’s system and gives the patient a better chance of surviving, Pasley said.
“This is why there’s a big push now, to help people try to stop the bleeding on the streets in their neighborhoods,” he said.
The use of tourniquets and pressure to stop bleeding is a military technique all soldiers learn when they’re deployed, said Pasley, an Air Force veteran. He added that these bleeding control skills are so simple they can be taught to children as young as 5 years old.
Scalea called the training the “trauma equivalent of CPR,” and, similar to that life-saving technique, individuals who employ bleeding control methods are protected by Good Samaritan laws. Although many people are afraid of blood, Scalea said he urges everybody to learn bleeding control skills.
“It’s frankly not that hard, and you can be the person that’s the difference between somebody living and somebody dying,” he said. “How cool is that?”
Sharonda Harden, who picked up a flier about the upcoming training at an information booth at Shock Trauma, said she’s going to sign up for it because of the high crime rates near her home in the Penn-North neighborhood. She said she wants to be able to keep her sons safe if they become victims of violence.
“I know I can’t protect them forever,” Harden said.
Scalea hopes others will sign up for the training and spread word about the campaign. Shock Trauma officials said they plan to offer training at the hospital and at other locations in the city. The center is reaching out to various community organizations, companies and school boards in hopes of training as many people as possible.
Pasley said Shock Trauma already has contacted officials at the Carroll County Public School System, Aberdeen Fire Department, M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, among others. Beyond outreach, the center hopes that people will see advertisements for the training when they come to the two University of Maryland Medical Center campuses.
“We get to save lives every day, now everybody can be prepared to do it,” Scalea said. “It’s an empowering way to act.”
Those interested in a free training session at Shock Trauma can register online at www.mdcot.org.