Gun violence patients at Memorial Health on pace to set record

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) – Gunshot injuries are on pace to match or surpass 2015 – a particularly violent year in Savannah.

The analysis provided to WTOC Investigates is by 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 rash of recent shootings in Savannah is affecting the men and women working to save their lives .

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

So many patients, he said, is why the death rate 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 — the middle of a weekday morning.

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

In the past three months, Savannah’s Level 1 trauma center has treated multiple gunshot victims at the same time.

“I think that’s one thing that’s 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 I can remember,” he said. “It can come down to where we don’t see a single gunshot wound in a day or 24 hours up to five or six (patients) at a time.”

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

Last year, the number of gunshot patients rose to 253 with 2,022 on pace to meet or exceed that, according to patient data tracked by Memorial Health. Memorial’s Level 1 Trauma Center serves surrounding counties because the closest Level 1 trauma centers are in Macon, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, SC

Another growing trend is the number of children and teenagers with gunshot wounds. These ages range from birth to 17 years old.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it is 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 at the trauma center and also coordinates gun violence prevention in the community.

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

That meant home care for someone who is 18, she said. Her recent message to parents of children is to talk to them about the dangers of guns, “Take the mystery out of that gun so they know the harm it can cause. Teach your children what to do if they see a gun.”

She also has a message for anyone who uses guns to solve their problems, “For some teenagers, that’s all they know and it seems like there’s a cycle, but we want the message to get out that the cycle can be broken and it’s only 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 this situation. We have neurosurgeons on call 24/7. We have an OR on standby 24/7 just waiting for the next gunshot wound to come.”

Hospital and community leaders have emphasized that gun shooting trends are a community problem and that there are things everyone can do to help save someone’s life.

Burnside offered the following suggestions:

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