AURORA - One by one, police cruisers started showing up in the ambulance bay of the University of Colorado Hospital's already-full emergency department. The officers couldn't tell ER Charge Nurse Becky Davis what was wrong with each patient, but she knew the injuries were significant. One patient was already dead in the back of a car.
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"I saw one of the officers guarding the one person that died, and he was very thoughtful. He was there, and he was very good with the situation," Davis said nearly one year after the event that forever changed the lives of every person inside her emergency room.
The police officers who showed up at University as well as the Medical Center of Aurora were trying to be helpful, but their lack of medical knowledge was readily apparent.
"That was what was so different about that night. We would get patients that we had no idea where they had been injured. There was no pre-hospital, and that's usually what we rely on," Dr. Jodie Taylor, a general surgeon at the Medical Center of Aurora, said.
"Usually in the emergency room, if there is an ambulance coming, we'll get some notification from the paramedics en route. We'll have an idea what the blood pressure is, what their vital signs are, and if they have a rapid heart rate," Dr. Comilla Sasson, an emergency medicine physician at University, said.
"In this case, you had no report. You just had someone there," Davis said.
WATCH the surveillance video from University Hospital's ambulance bay here: http://on9news.tv/12x06gq.
"My colleagues that have been in war said it's actually very similar to what they would see in a battleground, actually," Dr. Sasson said.
Some of the wounds were catastrophic.
"These were massively destructive wounds. There were parts of a patient's chest that were just gone," Dr. Taylor said. "Usually, we see gunshots with 9 millimeters or relatively low velocity type of weapons, and these were different."
The Medical Center of Aurora received its first patient at 12:51 a.m. The first patient to arrive at University Hospital in the back of a police car did so at 1:06 a.m. University's ER was already technically full at the time.
"We were actually on DIVERT status," Dr. Sasson explained. "It meant ambulances weren't supposed to go to our hospital unless there was some trauma or emergency."
At least 15 of the patients at University had suffered a critical gunshot wound. Some of those had to wait hours in a hallway just outside one of the trauma rooms before they could be prepped for surgery.
Pierce O'Farrill was one of those who had to wait. He had suffered a gunshot wound to his arm and foot.
"They kept apologizing, and I kept saying, 'You know, it's OK.' I knew I was going to live, and that was the main thing," he said. "I just wanted them to help as many people as possible - people who were far worse than I was."
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University's call center was also slammed that night. Crystal Villalobos got a text message in the middle of the night telling her that the hospital was in a "Plan D Emergency."
"We were getting calls from all over the world," the former switchboard operator said.
She has since moved to another job in the hospital.
Rebecca Gilleland said the call center typically takes 3,000 calls a day. That day it took 5,000 calls.
"It was constant. It never stopped," the call center's director said.
One man phoned the call center looking for his son.
"He was crying because he had been calling his son's phone, and no one was answering," she explained.
In the end, every patient who arrived at University's ER that night eventually left the hospital with a pulse. It's a statistic that still fosters pride within the hospital. Davis credits the work of a number of Aurora Police officers.
"I'm absolutely totally confident their actions saved several of the patients. There's no doubt," she said. "Because they loaded up and went, those people are alive today."
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