Emergency Doctors Recall Team Effort, Trauma Of Columbine

Doctor: Everyone Who Made It To A Hospital Survived

Denver’s emergency room physicians have seen quite a bit on the job.

They've attended to victims injured in plane crashes and car crashes, explosions and hazardous chemical spills -- but until Columbine, few had ever had to deal with the emotion involved in a mass shooting.

Moments after the first shots rang out, the phone lit up in the emergency room at Saint Anthony Central.

"They asked how many critically injured we could take," said Dr. Winston Tripp, the attending physician. "It was horrifying because, at the time, I lived across the street from Columbine and my kids were in the schools at Summit Ridge and West Creek elementary."

Tripp helped take care of the first victim to arrive at St. Anthony's.

“He was white as a sheet when he came into the trauma room,” the doctor said. “We repaired the femoral artery in his leg… and repaired his jaw.”

Tripp said there was surprisingly little chaos in the ER. He said the staff just did what they were trained to do.

“When it hit me is when I went out and had to talk to his parents," Tripp said. "I can remember like it was yesterday. I could see the horror on their face. It’s something that you cannot erase.”

Dr. Darcee Fisher also remembers that day.

She came in early after watching the tragedy unfold on television. She arrived in the emergency room just before the last patient.

“It ended up being the student, Patrick Ireland, who had had a prolonged time down, but was able to heroically get himself out the window.”

Fisher told 7NEWS that the entire hospital was well prepared.

“We wanted to help victims,” she said. “We thought, ‘Come on, bring us more… please tell us there are more survivors.’”

Tripp told 7NEWS that the whole staff pulled together.

“I remember Sandy, one of our unit secretaries at the time, in tears because she had parents calling trying to figure out where their loved ones were, where their children were. And some of them were the parents of some of the victims. And she just -- it was very tough,” he said.

Fisher said the Columbine tragedy was more public than most.

“Because of that,” she said, “there was some gratification watching the survivors overcome their horrific injuries and become successful adults. In most emergency cases, we don’t get to see that.”

Fisher also commented about the outpouring of support the hospital received from the public and from other hospitals.

“There was one letter from a hospital in Oklahoma City which had dealt with victims from the bombing of the (Murrah) Federal Building," Fisher said. "That letter said, ‘We know what you’re going through. Keep your chin up. You’re doing a good job.’”

Fisher said that letter and all the others were hung on a bulletin board.

“Every time I walk by it, I’m glad I was part of that day,” she said. “I’m proud of the doctors and nurses that worked so hard to get everyone back on their feet again.”

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