Tourniquets back to saving lives and limbs in Twin Cities
ST. PAUL – When Dan King considers why he survived two shotgun blasts in 2012, he first credits fellow St. Paul police officers, paramedics and doctors.
But King also swears by a makeshift tourniquet he had been carrying with him for about a year.
In the frantic, painful moments after a shooter ambushed him, shooting him in the left arm and back, King turned to the tourniquet, which was nothing more than an old cloth belt.
“I wrote the arm off,” recalled King, a former Army Reserve officer and Cottage Grove police officer paramedic. “I saw how destroyed it was and I said, ‘OK, forget the arm … I gotta stop this bleeding.’ All I cared about was staying alive.”
King managed to dig out the tourniquet, rolled up in his side cargo-pants pocket, before Officer David Randall ran up to help. With King yelling orders, Randall applied it above his elbow, restricting blood flow.
“It saved me,” said King, who at the time was one of a few St. Paul police officers who carried tourniquets. “I had been meaning to buy an official tourniquet forever but just never did. And I ended up using the one I expected to use on somebody else on myself.”
In part because of King’s success story and others like it, including those from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, a growing number of police officers locally and nationally are carrying combat-style tourniquets to help increase the chances of saving lives, including their own.After King was shot, police officers in St. Paul and Minneapolis were issued tourniquets, which at a cost of about $30 per kit are nothing more than a nylon band with a windlass clip and small plastic rod to twist to increase pressure.
It didn’t take long for one to be used.
On Aug. 15, Marshall Titus, a rookie St. Paul officer, put one on the upper thigh of a 9-year-old boy whose feet were severed by a slow-moving freight train in the city’s North End.
Before paramedics arrived, Titus put the tourniquet on the boy’s leg that was bleeding the most, while his partner, Jennifer Hale, worked to keep the child calm.
“He’s a super heroic kid,” Titus said.
Just three months earlier, St. Paul patrol officers received tourniquets from Regions Hospital and went through training on how to use them.
“I always just started carrying it in my side pocket,” Titus said. “You hardly even notice that it’s there. But it truly is a lifesaving tool.”
Titus noted how two Minneapolis police officers applied a tourniquet to a stabbing victim last month, likely saving her life. This month, a St. Paul resident used his tourniquet on a motorcyclist who was hit by a car.
“They’re so easy to use – you could train somebody in a matter of minutes – and it really takes just seconds to use,” Titus said, adding that they are designed to be applied with one hand.
Tourniquets were popular in ambulances in the 1960s. But they eventually were pushed aside because long transports often resulted in the person losing a limb from a lack of blood supply caused by tourniquets, said Keith Wesley, medical director of HealthEast Medical Transportation.
“But what has transpired over the last 10 to 15 years is the improved ability of microvascular surgery and the ability to deal with the trauma that occurs even after the tourniquet is applied,” he said.
Improved design and effectiveness in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars also changed attitudes toward them, Wesley said.
“The problem with the old stick and cravat tourniquet is that it ended up putting pressure on only one point,” he said. “These Combat Application Tourniquets actually have an internal elastic band so that as you’re turning, you’re not constricting the skin but instead applying even pressure around the limb.”
In April, HealthEast Medical Transportation provided one tourniquet for every police officer in the communities it covers for 911 emergency calls – Eagan, Rosemount, Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights, West St. Paul and South St. Paul.
They are in addition to tourniquets the Dakota County Domestic Preparedness Committee bought through a federal grant for every squad car and fire station in the county.
“What we found is if we go into a mass-casualty situation – God forbid like Columbine – you’re going to wind up with individuals with multiple injured limbs, and the goal would be to have an average of three to five tourniquets on every ambulance, with every officer,” Wesley said.
He noted how Boston police officers started carrying tourniquets after the 2013 marathon bombing, where many of the injured were treated with belts and other makeshift devices to control bleeding.
Put it in your pocket
In King’s case, surgeons were able to save his arm.
Last month, he had his 11th surgery to try to improve wrist and hand movement “and there’s talk of a 12th.”
Since the Oct. 23, 2012, incident in St. Paul, King, 46, remains on a leave of absence from the police department and doubts a comeback is possible.
“I’m done … the hand is just too messed up,” he said. “I can’t fight. I can’t hold a weapon with it. In light duty, you’re in some office somewhere, and I would hate that.”
He uses his experience to talk to other police departments about what he learned. The talk always includes the same advice: Keep a tourniquet close at hand.
“It’s something that every cop in the nation should have in their pants pocket,” King said. “Just get one on you and don’t leave it in the trunk of your car. If you’re on the third floor of an apartment building somewhere and something goes down, you’re not going to have time to go get it … and you’re going to be ripping T-shirts.”