Inside the ER on the day of the church bus crash

Wednesday marks one week since eight people lost their lives along I-40. The fiery crash sent 14 others to the hospital.

Nine of the injured are still recovering at UT Medical Center. Two of them remain in critical condition. Investigators say the front tire of the Front Street Baptist Church bus failed, then it crossed the median into oncoming traffic and slammed into an SUV, then a tractor trailer.

An experienced trauma team at UT Medical Center helped save members of the Statesville, North Carolina church group.

"The worst day at work that I could imagine is a geriatric bus crash and that's what we had," said UT Medical Center's Director of Emergency Services, Christian Lawson.

"It's my 23rd year in air medical services and I'd never seen anything quite like that," said Lifestar Operations Manager, Andrew Slemp, who flew a helicopter from the scene to the hospital on the day of the crash.

"On a busy trauma day we would see about five traumas and it's busy. But we had 14 that day," said Beckye Dalton, a clinical nurse specialist in the ER.

The team said they were forced to put their emotions aside and let their training guide them.

"We had nurses, pharmacists, everybody here working together," said the Chief Medical Director of Trauma and on-call surgeon on the day of the crash, Dr. Brian Daly.

While the crew said they were able to evaluate and treat all the patients within two hours, they faced many unknowns.

"With it being a bus crash, everything was shaken around, and we only had one true identification on a patient," said Lawson.

The team was tasked with reuniting frantic families with their loved ones.

"Here they were hours away and we were trying our best to get communication back to the church and back to the individuals," said Lawson.

"At the same time we were taking care of people who lost their spouse. And they were asking about their spouse. So that is hard for the nurses at the bedside," said Jennifer Radtke, the nurse manager of the Trauma Intensive Care Unit. "It's hard for anyone to watch. It's not something you can get used to."

They were not only dealing with the families of the 14 survivors, but they had to break the news to the families of the dead..

"That was one thing that when I went home that night was hard on me. I've been trained former military," said Niki Rasnake, Trauma Program Manager. "But having to identify bodies was hard for me."

Many team members had a difficult time when they went home and processed the day. UT Medical's pastoral care department helped to counsel affected employees.

"You never get used to it. You never get totally immune to the emotions that are attached to that," said Debbie Barton, VP of Medical/Surgical Nursing who stepped into the role of incident commander the day of the crash.

While they will not forget that day, they also said the trauma is not what they will carry with them. Instead they will carry pride in their teamwork and knowing they helped to save 14 lives.

"Just being able to be a part of such a bigger piece will always hold a special place for me," said Slemp.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment