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‘Stop the Bleed’ courses are helping Philadelphians buy valuable time

With gun violence continuing in the city, more and more community members are taking it upon themselves to be prepared to care for devastating wounds.

One of the “Stop the Bleed” kits from the "gun violence prevention and de-escalation training" day camp, run by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the Philadelphia police, at Benjamin Franklin High School in 2022.
One of the “Stop the Bleed” kits from the "gun violence prevention and de-escalation training" day camp, run by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the Philadelphia police, at Benjamin Franklin High School in 2022.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

On Monday afternoon in West Oak Lane, a group of women surrounded by picture books practiced tightening tourniquets and pressing on bloody wounds.

This time, nobody was in real danger. At the West Oak Lane free library, staff members and local residents were learning how to care for traumatic injuries through a “Stop the Bleed” training session.

“I would definitely want to help somebody.”

Estralita Feliciano

When someone experiences a traumatic injury, the care they receive immediately afterward is critical to their survival. And with Philly’s seemingly unrelenting gun violence, many people are thrust into that position of needing to provide life-or-death care.

“We live in the midst of a war zone,” said Estralita Feliciano, a West Oak Lane librarian assistant living in North Philly. She had taken the training before but came back for this session to ask more questions and get more practice. “I guess if you’re in that situation in real life, you never know how you’d act, [but] I would definitely want to help somebody.”

That’s why more and more communities and groups are learning about what to do in those situations. Through “Stop the Bleed” courses offered at hospitals and medical centers but also YMCAs, community centers and, increasingly, libraries, Philadelphians are learning how to buy an injured person time.

“It’s an unfortunate reality, what we deal with every day in the city [is] people being shot,” said Kendra Van de Water, the executive director of YEAH Philly, a community-based organization working with West Philly teens and young adults affected by violence.

“We need to make sure that people who witness these things or may come in contact with people who are shot or even [are shot] themselves should have the skills to possibly help prolong someone’s life,” she said.

Simple first aid

Stop the Bleed is a national campaign created by the federal government to provide a straightforward, standardized set of teachings and recommendations for everyday people caring for excessive bleeding.

“[People] are relieved that the steps they can take to help somebody, they’re not overly complicated,” said Sarah Misuro, the trauma education, prevention, and outreach coordinator with Einstein Medical Center, who teaches Stop the Bleed courses across the city, including the monthly sessions at West Oak Lane free library.

» READ MORE: How to put on a tourniquet and stop someone from bleeding to death

“Don’t be Rambo,” she told Monday’s participants, explaining that it’s best to keep things simple and not try to replicate what you see in the movies.

These are the key steps that Misuro said everyone should know for caring for traumatic bleeding:

  1. Make sure it is safe to give aid: If the scene is still actively dangerous, do not risk getting injured yourself.

  2. Call 911: “Everything you are going to do after that is buying the person who’s injured time until emergency services arrive,” Misuro said. This can be a critical step that anyone can contribute without having to get directly involved with the injury.

  3. Apply steady pressure directly to the wound: Use a clean cloth, or gauze from a first-aid kit if there is one available. Don’t be tempted to peek at the wound and release the pressure. When in doubt, apply pressure.

  4. But if you have a tourniquet available, use it: Apply the tourniquet at least a few inches above the wound, or in-between the wound and the injured person’s heart, and make sure it is tight. Tourniquet use is most appropriate on a person’s extremities.

A list of scheduled, free Stop the Bleed trainings in Philadelphia can be found here and here. There is also an online course available.

At Monday’s training, Misuro watched her arm turn blue and her veins pop out as she let everyone practice applying and tightening a tourniquet near her shoulder.

“It’s OK, I’m bleeding to death!” she joked, encouraging people that tourniquets are supposed to be tight and uncomfortable.

“They were saying that it [felt] useful,” said Van de Water about the teens and young adults who have participated. “Young people are saying: ‘Yes, this is helpful for me. I can use this in my life, and it’s beneficial.’”

Van de Water said that two YEAH participants told her they actually ended up using what they learned in a Stop the Bleed session in real life.

“Young people are saying, ‘Yes, this is helpful for me.’”

Kendra Van de Water

“Even though they didn’t have tourniquets or anything, they said they knew that they were able to grab a shirt or grab a towel and hold it down on someone’s wounds while people waited for the ambulance,” she recalled.

» READ MORE: Sign of the times: At this Philly day camp, teens learned ‘stop the bleed’ training for gunshot victims

Misuro said that while her sessions are focused on providing education, the courses also give community members an opportunity to talk about the weight of violence on their lives.

“We definitely have a lot of conversations about trauma. People always want to share their stories, and that’s awesome.

“It continues that conversation of supporting each other, supporting our communities,” she said. “It’s so much heavier than I think you realize on the surface.”

Precious time

There are four Level I trauma centers (hospitals able to provide complete and comprehensive care for injuries) for adults in Philadelphia — Einstein, Temple, Penn, and Jefferson. The city’s fifth center, Hahnemann, closed in 2019.

The places in the city that experience the most gun violence can be far away from these trauma centers, and those extra minutes matter greatly. According to research studying gunshot wound survival rates and driving distances to Philly’s trauma centers, there’s a direct correlation between the two; victims who are shot farther from trauma centers are more likely to die.

» READ MORE: With Hahnemann closed, expect more shootings to turn into homicides | Brain Trust

According to Stephanie Sailes, the trauma program manager at Einstein, Stop the Bleed techniques can help give back gunshot victims some of this valuable time while they get transported or wait for emergency medical services.

“It is a very significant measure. Someone can bleed to death in as quick as five minutes,” she said. Sailes pointed out one proof of concept — the Philadelphia Police Department’s successful “scoop and run” strategy, where police take gunshot victims directly to the hospital themselves instead of waiting for an ambulance.

“If you’re waiting for transport to hospital, [Stop] the Bleed is a technique that you would want to use,” she said. “You will definitely help a victim.”

As the training at West Oak Lane wrapped up on Monday and Feliciano went back to her spot at the front desk, she explained how working for the library and the training were interconnected.

“I do public service every day,” she said, helping all adults and children coming through the library’s doors with whatever they may need that day. Being prepared in case of a traumatic injury felt no different.

“I would do it for anybody.”