Innovative Medicine and Seamless Teamwork Saves Man’s Life

On February 21, 2020, 53-year-old Vern Smith was shot in a suspected road rage incident. If that shooting had not happened in the Cypress Creek EMS coverage area, he likely would not have survived.

Today, Vern and his family met many of the folks involved in his care that night including the 9-1-1 dispatchers at the CCEMS Comm Center, the ambulance crew, the District 51 field supervisor, and CCEMS Army EMS Fellow, Dr. Nicholas Studer. He also met the firefighters who were first on the scene immediately behind Harris County Precinct 4 Constables.

Here are a few pictures from the reunion including the presentation of a framed picture signed by members of his team and bearing the patches of all the agencies involved in his care.

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He was shot through the driver’s door of his vehicle with a shotgun, which penetrated his left abdomen, went through his digestive tract, and lodged in his liver. He tried to call 9-1-1 but was too groggy to tell the dispatcher his exact location. So he called his daughter who lives in the area. She got him out of his car and into hers and called 9-1-1. The dispatcher got an exact location and Precinct 4, Spring Fire Department Engine 74, CCEMS Medic 52, a CCEMS field supervisor, and CCEMS Army EMS Fellow Dr. Nicholas Studer headed that way. Precinct 4 Deputies not only handled traffic, but they also took turns holding Smith’s 8-year-old grandson Deodrick and keeping him occupied so he would not be afraid.

Fortunately for Smith, Cypress Creek EMS is one of the few EMS systems in the country that carry whole blood. CCEMS was actually the first EMS system in the country to transfuse whole blood into a trauma patient in the field.

Due to internal bleeding, Assistant Medical Director and Army EMS Fellow Dr. Nick Studer opted for a rare procedure establishing a central line into the subclavian vein which feeds directly to the heart and offers a larger flow rate than a traditional transfusion in the arm. Essentially it involves inserting a catheter into the vein under the collarbone.

Dr. Studer’s action in establishing a central line may be the single biggest factor in Smith’s survival when combined with the availability of whole blood. The central line procedure is common in hospitals but is virtually unheard of in civilian EMS.

Life Flight landed in front of Spring Fire Department Station 74 on Aldine Westfield. The Life Flight crew did a pre-hospital ultrasound exam to confirm internal bleeding and activated the trauma surgeon from the field which is the new “Scene to O.R.” protocol.

From Life Flight patient contact to first surgical incision was an incredible 31 minutes and it was eight minutes from skids down on Hermann helipad to the first incision. He was taken directly into the OR from the helicopter and required 40 units of blood to keep him alive during surgery.

The medical stars lined up for Vern Smith that afternoon from whole blood availability to the Military EMS Fellow who placed the central line, to the incredibly fast response of Life Flight and the Memorial Hermann surgical team.

Smith was off work for about a month and a half and his boss at EnviroMasters kept him on the payroll while he recuperated. Upon his return to work, where he is a Service Manager, he noticed a ticket for new customers. Those new customers were Cypress Creek EMS and Spring Fire Department so Vern claimed those for himself.

On Friday, May 15, Vern installed new hand soap and hand towel dispensers in the Administration and Education building at Cypress Creek EMS and did the same at every CCEMS station and facility.

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In March, CCEMS had contracted with EnviroMasters for once a week disinfectant spraying of all ambulances and buildings, and also had the company handle sanitary equipment and supplies for the kitchens and bathrooms of all stations and facilities.

We did not realize that our patient worked at EnviroMasters until he showed up at CCEMS to do his job and told us about it. Small World! Oddly enough, we were getting ready to contact him about a possible reunion.

Vern Smith Timeline – February 21, 2020

5:51 pm – Smith’s daughter calls 9-1-1

5:54 pm – Precinct 4 Constable arrives on scene

5:57 pm – Spring Fire Engine 74 arrives on scene

5:58 pm – CCEMS Medic 51 arrives on scene

6:04 pm – CCEMS District 51 Field Supervisor arrives on scene

6:05 pm – CCEMS MD2 arrives on scene

6:19 pm – Life Flight safely on the ground

CCEMS STAFF

Communications Center

Jennifer Nelson

Victoria Castillo

Christine Mangum

Shelby Muster

Amber Taylor

Medic 52

Yazmin Aguirre – In-Charge Paramedic

Jennifer Hall – Unit Operator/EMT

District 51

Theodore Georgakis

MD2

Dr. Nicholas Studer – Military EMS Fellow/Assistant Medical Director

Spring Fire Department Staff

Captain Walter Juarez – Firefighter/EMT

Captain Brent Silvey – Firefighter/EMT

Leiah Veronesi – Volunteer Firefighter

Austin Delaplane – Volunteer Firefighter