Surviving a bullet to the brain: UAMC surgeons increasing the odds

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Surviving a bullet to the brain: UAMC surgeons increasing the odds

By Marcelino Benito. CREATED Jan 27, 2014

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Three years ago now former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords nearly died, but UAMC's skilled trauma surgeons saved her life. The aggressive approach those doctors used is now dramatically boosting survival rates for others.

When Gabby Giffords was rushed inside this operating room, the clock was ticking.

"Time is of the essence in trauma," said Dr. Peter Rhee. "It's a very time-sensitive thing . You have to be fast and you have to know what you're doing."

Her injury was severe. A bullet through the brain shattered her skull. They would save Giffords that day, and they've saved many others since.

"We're very aggressive with anyone that comes in," said Rhee. "We don't give up."

Nationally, 1 in 10 people survive gunshots to the brain. But at UAMC that number is now nearly 5 in 10.

"That's a huge change," said Rhee.

Surgeons here are more aggressive in treatment. They use new resuscitation methods, skills Dr. Rhee picked up overseas as a military trauma surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The chances of you surviving and having a meaningful life after is there," said Rhee. "It's not a hopeless situation."

For evidence of that, look no further than Gabby Giffords jumping out of airplanes, or even TPD Sgt. Robert Carpenter who too survived a bullet to the brain. They are among the 25 to 30 people shot in the brain in Tucson each year. More people are living to talk about it and trauma centers across the country are taking notice.

"Time will only tell how many trauma centers will take this approach and see how many lives we will save in the future," said Rhee.