One Year Later: A Look at UTHSC College of Medicine Alums Who Saved Lives During the Pulse Nightclub Shooting Emergency

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Dr. Chadwick Smith, who was trained at UTHSC, led the trauma team that responded to the victims of the shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, one year ago. He is shown during a news conference following the shootings. (Photo courtesy Orlando Regional Medical Center)

“I knew it was not an ordinary event when the resident called, rather than paged,” said trauma surgeon Chadwick P. Smith, MD, (UTHSC COM, 2001). Dr. Smith was the attending surgeon on call at Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) the night of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016.

ORMC is the area’s only Level One trauma center, and it had already been a busy night. “I was told that there would be a few gunshot wound patients. They started coming in, one after the other. And they kept coming.” Dr. Smith called his five partners for help.

One was William Havron, MD, also a UTHSC College of Medicine alumnus. Dr. Havron graduated from UTHSC COM in 2003, and completed a residency in general surgery and a surgical critical care fellowship at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga in 2009.

“I was off for the week,” Dr. Havron said. “My wife had just had a baby that Tuesday, was discharged on Friday, and this was Saturday night. I had done a late feeding and gone to sleep, when (Dr. Smith) called and said there had been a mass shooting and I needed to come in.”

Dr. William Havron, who also trained at UTHSC, responded to the emergency, even though he was off duty.

Dr. Havron arrived at the emergency room within minutes. “They had six operating rooms ready to go. (Dr. Smith) and his team were in the ER, triaging patients. I was in an OR as patients were delivered, finishing one case and moving to the next OR. It was case, after case, after case. I operated on six or seven cases that night, one right after the other,” he said.

While medical students at UTHSC, Dr. Havron and Dr. Smith were introduced to trauma care, working at then- Memphis Regional Medical Center.

His experiences as a student led Dr. Smith to a postgraduate general surgery residency with Orlando Health. “I didn’t set out to become a trauma surgeon,” he said. “When I finished my residency training, I thought I never wanted to see another trauma patient for the rest of my life.”

Yet, in 2010, after four years in a surgical practice in his hometown of Savannah, Tennessee, Dr. Smith returned to Orlando Health to complete a fellowship in surgical critical care, and has remained with Orlando Health.

Dr. Havron grew up in Chattanooga, where his father was a gastroenterologist. “In high school, my father encouraged me to volunteer at the hospital with a surgical group,” he said. He is the program director of the general surgery residency program with the Orlando Health surgical team.

Drs. Havron and Smith praised the teamwork and professionalism of the administration, doctors, residents, nursing staff, OR staff, and cleaning staff that night.

Dr. Smith, who serves as vice chair of the Department of Surgery for ORMC, said he triaged 44 patients — 38 of whom arrived in a 42-minute span. And both physicians said they still think about the nine patients who died.

David Stern, MD, Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine, called Drs. Smith and Havron, models for the college’s medical students and recent graduates. “While many people prepare for dealing with situations involving mass casualties, to operate effectively in the heat of the moment during such a tragedy is something that only very few physicians and people can do. Both excelled in this high-pressure setting and act as a wonderful model for our medical students and recent graduates.”

Dean Stern has invited Dr. Smith to speak at the COM graduation in 2018.

UTHSC graduates are well-trained, clinically prepared doctors, Dr. Smith said. “The skills of UT graduates are very competitive. We have had ER residents (at Orlando Health) who are UTHSC graduates. They have all been very bright.”

Dr. Havron said accountability, medical ability, and training are second to none with UT graduates. “The ideas of being responsible for your education, patient ownership, and patient care is paramount,” he said.

This story was written by Josie Ballin, senior director of Philanthropy Communications for the UT Foundation, and is included in the Spring 2017 issue of Medicine magazine