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Seattle rolls up its sleeves to help Vegas

Aiko Matsuda, who works at Seattle children's hospital in the child cancer care unit, gives blood at Bloodworks Northwest following a call for donations in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Credit: Matt Mills McKnight/Crosscut

It takes a body 650 calories to donate blood, which means Lavonia Groves has given more than a month’s worth of her breakfasts, lunches and dinners to Northwest Bloodworks.

Groves has sat like this more than 100 times, covered in a loose-knit blanket, waiting as a whirring machine takes its fill of her blood.

When she woke up Monday morning and saw on the news that hundreds of people had been killed and injured at a country music concert just off the Las Vegas strip, shot by a man from a 32nd floor hotel room, she once again drove to the blood donation facility on Seattle’s First Hill.

“They were talking about needing blood down there,” she said of the news reports on TV. “It’s one thing I can do.”

Look for the helpers, Fred Rogers once said about the moments following a disaster. You will always find people who are helping.

From the moment someone is shot they may pass through the hands of thirty helpers, explains Eileen Bulger, a UW professor of surgery and Chief of Trauma at Harborview Medical Center. There are the dispatchers, the police, the EMTs, the ambulance drivers, the nurses, the surgeons, the technicians, the janitors. On the periphery, there are the counselors, the physical therapists and people like Lavonia Groves, ready when needed.

In Las Vegas, first responders were  “all over the place.” The response was so large, reporters flying in expected to see the scene from their airplane.

Every trauma is complicated. But nothing is as complicated as gunshots or, as Bulger calls them, “high-velocity missiles that don’t take a particular path.” A car crash, such as the deadly 2015 Ride the Ducks collision with a tour bus on Aurora Bridge, may have several serious victims as well as those who may not need immediate medical help. But the bell curve is flatter in a shooting. “If everyone’s shot,” she says, “and everyone needs surgery, it’s a bigger impact.” A bullet’s trajectory through a body and its impact requires a different surgeon: in the torso, a trauma surgeon; in the head, a neurosurgeon; on bone, an orthopedic surgeon.

If a mass shooting were to occur in Seattle, Harborview could immediately take in ten patients.

But if the numbers go higher, a larger medical response system needs to go into motion. The police would first activate its Emergency Medical Services system to tighten the Venn diagram of hospitals, police and fire. First responders would secure the scene and provide medical treatment in the field. Then they would notify Harborview that there had been an “event,” providing estimates of the anticipated number of patients as quickly and accurately as possible.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: Las Vegas residents donate blood at United Blood Services in Northwest Las Vegas, NV on Oct. 2, 2017, after a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival (Photo by Doug Kranz/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images).
Las Vegas residents donate blood at United Blood Services in Northwest Las Vegas, after a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival (Photo by Doug Kranz/Icon Sportswire)

Harborview would activate its Disaster Medical Control Center, which would be the center of all communications between hospitals. The hospital would take inventory of available help from trauma centers from around the region — from Swedish to as far out as Overlake Hospital in Bellevue — tallying open beds and operating rooms. Staff would be called in.

“All hands on deck,” Bulger says.

Ten victims to Harborview and then the hospital would direct ambulance drivers where else to go.

The ratio for such a large response would not be one to thirty as it may be for a single patient, but with hundreds injured, Bulger says staff needs could easily get into the thousands of helpers.

But even as Bulger describes this response, standing in a white hallway in Harborview’s basement, it becomes painfully obvious that, for all her skills and knowledge and preparedness, when it comes to Las Vegas, there’s little she can do from afar. This puts her in the same place as Lavonia Groves and the rest of Seattle in a stunned shock. Las Vegas will end up moving too quickly to send help or receive patients, Bulger says. So on Monday, the wings of Harborview are no more chaotic than on any routine weekday. She too woke up and thought to herself “not again,” before heading into a normal day of work.

So for now, Seattle’s response to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — 59 dead; more than 500 people injured — can be tallied in increments of 650 calories, from Groves and dozens of others lining up to help on Monday. “We have had a non-stop stream of people coming in,” says John Yeager with Northwest Bloodworks, so much so the donation center planned to stay open three hours longer than normal, until 6 p.m. It has sent 20 pints of O-type blood to Las Vegas; Dr. James AuBuchon, president and CEO of the organization, expects to soon send more.

“Of course I was shocked,” Groves said about Las Vegas. “But in a way, it was like, ‘Here we go again.’ I feel sort of numb now. What can we do?”

She wore a flowered shirt and a bruise where the needle had been inserted. As she donated, the beds around her began to fill. Black coffee was available in a nearby waiting room for when she was finished.

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