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‘It was chaos’: Doctors who triaged, treated patients during parade shooting recount experience

Posted: 6:15 PM, Feb 28, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-21 10:52:44-04
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dr. Erica Carney isn’t squeamish about blood on her scrubs as an emergency-room physician at University Health Truman Medical Center. But the day of a mass shooting at the Chiefs Super Bowl rally felt different.

“My job shirt from that day with those victims’ blood, it was actually the first time in my entire career it was tough to wash, because I knew exactly what you said — this is a moment in Kansas City, unfortunately, that we will never forget,” she said.

Carney also serves as the medical director for Kansas City, Missouri, overseeing the city fire department’s EMS crews and as Missouri’s state medical director.

She and Dr. Jennifer Watts — the Chief Emergency Management Medical Officer at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Pediatric Chief Medical Officer for DMAT, the state’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team — served as the co-medical directors for the city and state, coordinating health care needs during the parade on Feb. 14.

“We were busy in the morning, probably busier than we were in previous years, too,” Watts said.

Carney said the warm weather drew a big crowd and led to a busy day for health-care workers at the parade and rally.

Event planning to keep spectators safe

Dr. Erica Carney, emergency-room physician at University Health Truman Medical Center

Nurses and doctors from surrounding hospitals, including University Health and Children’s Mercy, are handpicked to work the DMAT team — which coordinated the first-aid stations, roving EMS teams and the medical tents near Union Station during the Super Bowl celebration.

“It was spread out geographically spaced based on where we've seen our injuries in the previous parades,” Carney said.

The busy day had been fairly run-of-the-mill as such events go with bumps, bruises, scrapes, broken bones, drunk and dehydrated revelers and other more serious medical issues, including some heart attacks and pregnancy complications.

Things took a violent turn as the Chiefs Champions Victory Parade rally ended around 2 p.m. on the west side of Union Station, leaving Lisa Lopez-Galvan dead and nearly two dozen more people shot.

Carney and Watts along with their teams immediately pivoted to a mass-casualty incident, or MCI, response.

“I had just cleared the VIP medical area and I was checking on the tent that was on the east side when we heard the radio call go out,” Carney said. “Given our specialty, so I'm an EMS physician and an emergency-medicine physician, this is what I do. We are over the scene. Same with her on the pediatric side, so we just went to work. We just went into the tent.”

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A Kansas City, Missouri, police officer works to secure the scene following a shooting at the end of the Chiefs parade rally on Feb. 14, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The shootout took place alarmingly close to the medical tent, leaving doctors and nurses to work with an unsecured scene and members of the public being shepherded into the tent for safety.

“It was feet,” Carney said.

“It was right in front of the west tent,” Watts said.

Even with spectators scrambling for safety and police scrambling to locate potential threats and secure the scene, the medical staff on-site went to work, especially as the scope of the tragedy came into focus.

“It’s always chaos,” Watts said. “We would be lying if we told you that tent was calm. It is — it's always chaotic. Fortunately, we do it in real life a lot, but yes — yes, it was chaos. What we add to this, though, in our specialty in disaster medicine, is we help control the chaos and we bring a calm to the chaos.”

Doctor returns to hospital after receiving 'mass casualty' text

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Dr. Dustin Neel, trauma medical director and medical director of the surgical ICU at University Health.

One mile away, Dr. Dustin Neel, the trauma medical director and medical director of the surgical ICU at University Health, had headed home around the time the rally ended. He said the hospital wasn’t as busy as previous Super Bowl parades despite the unseasonably nice weather — but that was about to change.

“When it happened, a text message went across our phones that a mass casualty had started, there was an active shooter at a Union Station,” Neel said. “My phone rang subsequently thereafter from our emergency medicine nurse director, letting me know that there were at least nine victims that they already knew of that were likely coming to us.”

Neel turned his car around so he could return to the hospital and began alerting other trauma physicians who were on standby to make their way to the hospital to begin receiving gunshot victims.

Back at Union Station, Carney and Watts were triaging patients, a process of assessing victims and determining which had the most-severe injuries to decide which needed to be rushed to nearby hospitals first.

“For these types of events, we talk about mass casualty, we talk about active shooter, we have those conversations — if this were to happen, this is what we do in this tent,” Watts said.

Neel said KCPD secured the scene quickly enough to allow emergency personnel to work safely and get patients to hospitals. As a result, everyone who made it to a hospital after the shooting survived.

“All of the people who were moved, were moved in the exact correct order,” Neel said. “Otherwise, like we've talked about previously, the gentleman that arrived first wouldn't have been here if he’d have come second. He wouldn't have made it just based upon the location of his injuries, so Dr. Carney and her team figuring out that he needed to go before the other three enabled him to live.”

'We plan for the worst; we hope for the best'

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Dr. Jennifer Watts — the Chief Emergency Management Medical Officer at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Pediatric Chief Medical Officer for DMAT Missouri.

While Watts, Carney, Neel and their teams practice and prepare for such incidents, making sure they’re ready to respond efficiently and without letting care suffer when tragedy strikes, no one wants to have to enact those plans.

“I don't think I could ever say that it's a win in a disaster, right?” Watts said. “We train for this. We plan for the worst; we hope for the best. A win for us is walking out with nothing happening and my job not even really needing to be there, right? That's a win to me, but I'm fortunate we were there, we had everybody and all of the players working together to do the best thing for everybody involved.”

The whole incident exacted a massive emotional toll — on local hospitals, their staffs and the city as a whole.

“I would say that it's one of probably the top two or three days as far as sadness that the whole city experienced,” Neel said.

He said the shooting of KCPD officer Tyler Moss, who survived being shot in the head after being rushed to University Health, is one of the few days he can remember that were more emotionally taxing on the hospital’s staff.

But he’s proud how the Kansas City-area medical responded in the face of calamity.

“When somebody's having their worst day, we prepare to be at our best,” Neel said. “When Kansas City had its worst day in a long time, we were ready. And if it ever happens again, we'll be ready then, too.”

KSHB 41 coverage of the parade shooting is online.