Flashpoint Extra: How help a gunshot victim

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The video of the bloody aftermath of a West Philadelphia drive-by that showed bystanders scrambling to help got tens of thousands of views online. But it begged the question: what would you do to help someone who just got shot? 

The video from Aug. 16 is graphic and unsettling, and shows a 20-year-old man lying on the ground at the trolley stop near 42nd Street and Girard Avenue. With critical injuries to his neck and chest, he moaned in agony as bystanders, some appearing to be his friends, panic. They call police.  

Someone takes off his shirt and gives it to another person sitting on top of the victim, who is holding the man down in an effort to keep him conscious. But in the nearly five minutes it takes for help to arrive, there is clear confusion over just what to do to provide aid.

“Too often, what ends up happening, you have injuries that would otherwise be survivable, but because nobody engages in some form of intervention, those patients essentially bleed out. And it’s unnecessary,” explained Scott Charles, co-director of Fighting Chance, a program run out of Temple University Hospital.

Charles works with doctors and other medical professionals to train civilians in high crime areas on how to administer first aid to gun shot victims. The aid, primarily, helps to stop massive bleeding so that doctors have a better chance of saving the victim’s life.

“When you have a patient that has completely bled out from an arm or a leg injury,” said Charles, “the types of interventions that they are going to have to do once they have bled out, those interventions are unimaginable to most folks.”

The Fighting Chance teams hold workshops at churches, schools and other community locations.

They teach that the first step is to call police. Then, if the person is in immediate danger, try move them out of harms way, i.e., from the middle of a street with traffic. Then, assess the situation.  

Charles says the most effective aid can be administered to gun shots to limbs. So Fighting Chance teaches people how to use and create, for example, a tourniquet. Items can be purchased online, or in an emergency, a belt or ripped T-shirt can be tied tightly around a leg or arm above the gun shot wound to stop the bleeding. 

“If you see someone who is shot in the arm and see their entire sleeve has turned bright red and you see the blood dripping off their finger tips, you’re going to want to get a tourniquet on that as soon a possible,” said Charles.

And for wounds to the torso, many times the bleeding is internal. So the only way to help may be to turn the victim on one the side and open their mouth to ensure they do not choke on their own blood.

“A lot of times, gun shot patients will try to roll over to save themselves,” said Charles, “and it can be counterproductive to try to hold them down.”

For those who fear lawsuits from helping a victim, there’s little to worry about. Pennsylvania’s good Samaritan law provides protection.

“As long as you act in good faith and you’re trying to help somebody, you won’t be held liable if they don’t make it,” he said, noting that the gun shot has already done damage.

As for the 20-year-old victim from the Aug. 16th drive-by, the video shows the police arrived and helped to get him to the hospital where he was last known to be in critical condition.

So far this year, Philadelphia has seen more than 219 homicides and hundreds more shootings. The violence has taken place at playgrounds, cook-outs, on safe streets, and more.  

Arm yourself with basic information so in the event you are there and can help, you know what to do.

Contact Fighting Chance to schedule your workshop at 215-707-8398 or Scott.Charles@tuhs.temple.edu

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