Gun violence patients at Memorial Health on pace to set record

Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 4:45 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Gunshot wound injuries are on pace to meet or exceed 2015 - a particularly violent year in Savannah.

The analysis provided to WTOC Investigates is according to patient numbers tracked by Memorial Health’s Level 1 Trauma Center.

Memorial Health’s Level 1 Trauma Center shared those numbers with WTOC Investigates during an interview inside the trauma center to learn how the recent rash of shootings in Savannah is impacting the men and women who work to save their lives.

The number of patients being treated with gunshot injuries continues to sadden Memorial Health’s Chief Trauma Surgeon Dr. James Dunne, he said. Many gunshot patients are dying from severe traumatic brain injuries.

So many patients, he said, that it’s why the rate of deaths for that type of injury at the Savannah trauma center is double the rest of the country. WTOC Investigates met with Dr. Dunne inside a pediatric trauma room used to treat children. It was a relatively slow time at Memorial Health’s Trauma Center - mid-morning on a weekday.

He warned that at any moment we may have to relocate if a patient needed the room.

In the past three months, the Level 1 trauma center in Savannah has treated multiple gunshot victims at one time.

“I guess that’s one thing that has changed since 2015 is we’ve had more types of mass casualties, if you will, from penetrating injuries than we’ve ever had I think that I can remember,” he said. “It can come in where we don’t see a single gunshot wound during the daytime or 24 hours to up to five or six (patients) at a time.”

2015 is the marker because it was a particularly violent year in Savannah with more than 200 gunshot victims treated in Memorial’s Trauma Center.

Last year, the number of gunshot patients rose to 253 with 2022 on pace to meet or exceed it, according to patient data tracked by Memorial Health. The Level 1 Trauma Center at Memorial serves surrounding counties because the nearest Level 1 Trauma Centers are in Macon, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, S.C.

Another rising trend is the number of children and adolescents with gunshot wounds. Those ages include from birth to 17.

Nationally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported it’s the leading cause of death for that age group.

“These are preventable injuries,” said Emily Burnside, injury prevention and disaster management coordinator for Memorial Health. She meets with gunshot victims in the trauma center and also coordinates gun violence prevention in the community.

“I think that sometimes our community members can become numb because we hear it so much: Someone else got shot. But that person - that’s an individual whether it’s a child or an adult and they have a family that will have to care for them,” she said.

That’s meant nursing home care for someone as young as 18 years old, she said. Her message lately to parents of children is to talk to them about the dangers of guns, “Take the mystery away from that gun so that they know the damage that it can cause. Teach your children what to do if the see a gun.”

She also has a message to anyone using guns to solve their problems, “For some teens, this is all they know and there seems to be a cycle, but we want the message to come out that the cycle can be broken and it’s just finding the right person in the community to help them.”

Until the cycle is broken, Dr. Dunne and his team remain ready at a moment’s notice to help save a life.

“We are well equipped to deal with that situation. We have neurosurgeons on standby 24/7. We have an OR on standby 24/7 just waiting for the next gunshot wound to come in.”

Hospital and community leaders have stressed that the gunshot trends are a community problem and there are things everyone can do to help save someone’s life.

Burnside offered the following suggestions:

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