Beyond the ER: Trauma center team working to help young gunshot victims

Beyond the ER: Trauma center team working to help young gunshot victims

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Almost two dozen teenagers have been shot in the city of Richmond since the beginning of the year.

Miraculously, many of these gunshot victims have survived.

Now, the doctor who leads the trauma team at VCU Medical Center hopes their work extends beyond the hospital room.

When the 911 call comes in, the team at VCU's trauma unit knows they have just minutes to save a life. Leading the medical team is Dr. Michel Aboutanos.

"It's in this place, if you're going to survive, this is the place to be," he said.

Current statistics show the rate of people killed by guns under the age of 25 living in Richmond exceeds both the state and national rates.

As of October 2017, police say there have been 194 reported shootings, compared to 157 this time last year. And at least 18 victims this year were underage. Of the 56 cases classified as homicides, so far eight victims were 19 years old or younger.

Richmond Police have said the homicide rate would be higher, if it wasn't for Dr. Aboutanos and his team saving these lives.

"We've seen them as young as one or two-year-old accidental ones, to the intentional ones which have been as young as 8 to 10 years old," he said.

He calls the gun violence an epidemic.

"I was always taught that the dead stay with you, and I have them all with me," said Dr. Aboutanos.

One of the victims that has stayed with the doctor is a teenager who came in suffering from a gunshot wound about seven years ago.

"He was one of many that we see," he said. "And he had a severe injury in the leg, and we thought he was not going to walk again."

Though the teenager lived, he was sent back to the same neighborhood with very little follow up.

"Sure enough, he comes back afterwards," said Dr. Aboutanos "Now, he's shot in the belly."

Once again, the teen survived. But a few months later, he wasn't so lucky.

"The devastating part is seeing him when he came back a third time, and now he's shot in the head," said Dr. Aboutanos. "And now, I watch this kid die. And you stand there and you say, 'We got to do something more than this.'"

Because of that teenager - and many more like him - Dr. Aboutanos says programs were started at the hospital to tackle the issues of re-injury and re-victimization. It included counseling services, intervention and connecting the young person to other programs that could keep them on the right track.

The medical center found the school system and police department shared the same frustrations with the cycle of violence in the city.

But there were other issues.

"There are so many programs that are excellent in Richmond city, but we never talk to each other," said Dr. Aboutanos. "We've never collaborated; we actually competed for resources."

That's when the medical center and Richmond police partnered up to create RVA Alternative Pathways, backed by a $250,000 grant from the Robins Foundation.

"It's not a program," said Dr. Aboutanos. "It's not about an individual project, it's actually a network. It's a collaborative approach where we share services, we share resources, we share data regarding the youth and what the youth need."

Richmond Police Daniel Minton says it can change the way these young people are getting help.

"They can look into a central database, see the history of this child and continue to work with that child," said Minton. "So they're not getting lost in the system and becoming a part of the system ultimately."

Dr. Aboutanos says RVA Alternative Pathways is just in its beginning stages. He hopes in a year they will start seeing positive results, including people graduating high school and going to college.

But there are young people going through it right now, including gunshot survivors.

A Huguenot High School graduate survived being shot seven times. He is using the programs to turn his life around:

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