Last week: Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Waupaca County Sheriff's Deputy Clint Thobaden saved a life using training conducted on our SWAT Team years ago, and reinforced by ongoing training since then. Clint was my friend and colleague when I worked in the Waupaca County Hospital ER, and I had the honor of serving on the County SWAT Team with him.
Last Friday Dep. Thobaden responded to a call from neighboring Portage County to aid in intercepting a stolen car fleeing from police. He set up his squad vehicle at the county line, and soon the fleeing car appeared. He turned on his light bar, and as the suspect realized he was cornered the pursuing deputies executed a felony car stop just up the road from his position. Clint advanced his vehicle to render aid to his brother officers.
Unbeknownst to the deputies, the fleeing felon had threatened suicide to friends and family during the pursuit. He refused to exit the vehicle when instructed to do so, took out a knife, and while horrified officers watched, sliced his neck open from the angle of his jaw to his trachea. Clint tells me that the bleeding was instantaneous and profuse, which strongly suggested the man had severed at least one major blood vessel in his neck.
One of the Portage County deputies rushed forward, pulled the suspect from his vehicle, and applied direct pressure to the man's neck with his hands. However, blood continued to flow freely from the wound. Clint recognized the signs of a major and possibly life-threatening hemorrhage, and rushed forward to assist with lifesaving equipment he carries on his person every time he suits up to go on patrol.
Rewind the clock ten years, to a classroom on the upper floor of the Waupaca City Police building. A group of 25 or 30 members of the SWAT team were gathered there to learn Combat Lifesaver techniques from their SWAT Medical Officer, Dr. James Williams (yeah, that's me). We had a pretty good time kidding around with each other as we put tourniquets on ourselves and each other, trained in techniques of needle thoracostomy using packages of vacuum-packed pork ribs, and so on. One of the techniques we discussed and mocked up was the use of synthetic clotting agents. Quikclot Combat Gauze, a relatively new product at the time, was one of the products I had on hand. I showed the Team some videos demonstrating the use of this product on anesthetized pigs that were hemorrhaging from major surgical wounds. The guys were pretty impressed.
Our department didn't have the money for "blowout kits" at that time, but many of the guys on the Team made up their own kits. The need for our Team to be prepared for the worst in the Hot Zone was manifestly obvious to us all. Basing his selections on recommendations I passed on from TCCC experts I had trained with, Clint, like many of our SWAT operators, took to carrying his lifesaver equipment on his person not just on SWAT ops, but whenever he was out on Patrol thereafter. That equipment was never required on any of the SWAT ops conducted during my tenure as Medical Officer with that Department, which ended in 2011 when I moved to Texas.
Fast forward to last Friday night.
Dep. Thobaden recognized the life-threatening nature of the suspect's wound, as previously described. He sprinted forward to the bleeding suspect and the contact officer, retrieving his Combat Gauze from his pouch. He deployed the gauze as it was designed, stuffing it into the gaping wound in the suspect's neck, then applying pressure on the gauze-stuffed wound with both hands. EMS personnel arrived shortly thereafter and secured the dressing per protocol, but by that time the bleeding had been stopped.
The suspect was transported to the region's nearest Level II Trauma Center, where trauma docs removed the dressing and found that the suspect had lacerated his carotid artery, which they then surgically repaired.
The trauma docs told our guys in Portage and Waupaca Counties that without the effective application of Quikclot Combat Gauze, the suspect would have bled to death in minutes at the scene. In my experience as a certified trauma physician, I can only concur with the doc's statement that "he would have bled out in less than 3 minutes" without the Combat Gauze.
That misguided and depressed young man is alive today thanks to Deputy Thobaden's quick action, and has a shot at turning his life around, thanks to his willingness to prepare for such an eventuality by having lifesaving equipment on his person ready for deployment in a rapidly developing life-or-death situation.
I was contacted by Sheriff Hardel and SWAT Team Captain Todd Rasmussen this morning, at which time they informed me of Clint's lifesaving action. Better yet, they informed me they intend to equip every deputy in the County with a blowout kit modeled on Clint's, so every man and woman on the force will be able to act to save a life if called upon to do so as Dep. Thobaden did last Friday. My hat is off to the command staff for taking this step!
Here at Tactical Anatomy, we have been offering training in critical lifesaving skills for officers and civilians in the Hot Zone using proven TCCC doctrine for the past 10+ years. Several police departments have adopted this class as basic training for all their cops, most notably the Metro Nashville Police Department in TN, one of the pioneering agencies in this area. Our Tactical Anatomy Combat Lifesaver class is POST-certified in several states, including MN, TN, and WI. But it is only one of many tactical first aid courses offered around the nation. There is truly no excuse for anyone, police or civilian, to remain ignorant of these techniques and equipment training.
Do yourself a favor: whether you're a cop or a concealed-carry private citizen, you owe it yourself to find a tactical combat lifesaver class in your area, lay your money down, and learn how YOU could save somebody. The life you save just might be your own!