Course Strives to Reduce Gunshot Mortality in Chicago

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Program transforms bystanders into first responders.

For a gunshot victim, timing is critical: Research has shown that mortality rates increase sharply when patients must be transported long distances to the nearest trauma center, or when they lack access to high-quality pre-hospital care.

While Chicago has six level I trauma centers within the city limits, the South side, especially the Southeast side, has several neighborhoods more than five miles from the nearest level I trauma center; for trauma victims that distance can mean the difference between life and death.

To help trauma victims survive — wherever they are injured — Mamta Swaroop, MD, ’10 GME, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Trauma & Critical Care at Feinberg and a trauma surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, designed an innovative solution: the Chicago South Side Trauma First Responders Course, a free program giving Chicago community members the tools to render first aid to trauma victims.

In countries with little pre-hospital trauma care, the World Health Organization recommends teaching interested community members basic first aid techniques to provide care while waiting for an ambulance or transporting an injured person to an appropriate facility. Simple maneuvers to stop bleeding can help trauma patients survive, Swaroop said.

Seeing the potential of a similar approach in Chicago, Swaroop applied these principles when designing the First Responders Course.

“Turning bystanders into immediate responders is a great way to care for patients,” said Swaroop, founder and executive director of the Northwestern Trauma & Surgical Initiative (NTSI), which oversees the First Responders Course among several other projects.

The course focuses on the basics of first aid and scene management: Participants learn how to manage a victim’s airway and how to properly apply pressure to a wound, all while keeping themselves safe. Particular attention is paid to managing the often-intense emotions at the scene, a section that was added after Swaroop received feedback from course participants.

The backgrounds of the attendees have varied widely, including people concerned for their friends and family, students from Chicago Public Schools, healthcare professionals and Northwestern medical students, residents and fellows.

*Children’s trauma centers

One course participant, Cassandra Hanna, said she attended a session held at the Northwestern Simulation lab because she saw another student die in a stabbing incident during high school.

“Nobody helped him, and he died in the street,” she said. “I wanted to learn how to help, so I don’t just walk by a situation like that again.”

A group of Chicago Public Schools students took the First Responders Course on Northwestern’s Chicago campus this fall.

Extracurricular Activities

Feinberg medical students aren’t just participating in the course — they’re teaching it, too. Several students and residents, including second-year medical student Bitania Wondimu, have helped teach classes.

“I initially came across the project when looking to do research with a physician as part of my Area of Scholarly Concentration research requirement, and I was really drawn to the First Responders Course after speaking with Dr. Swaroop,” she said. “Having now taught a few courses, it’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the participants and their willingness to engage with the various skills stations in the course.”

That enthusiasm is often paired with honesty, according to Wondimu.

“Hearing people’s bystander experiences is always particularly striking; I think it’s the part of the course that always has the most impact on instructors as well as participants, and it goes a long way towards encouraging a sense of empowerment in people,” she said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience thus far and I encourage anyone who is interested in the program to reach out and see how they can get involved.”

Hearing people’s bystander experiences is always particularly striking; I think it’s the part of the course that always has the most impact on instructors as well as participants, and it goes a long way towards encouraging a sense of empowerment in people.

Visit ntsinitiative.org or call 773-999-NTSI to learn about getting involved in the First Responders course.

The Chicago South Side Trauma First Responders Course is supported by the American College of Surgeons Chicago’s Committee on Trauma, the Chicago Metropolitan Trauma Society, Ceasefire Chicago and Northwestern University Clinical and Translation Sciences Institute.