The Alegent Creighton Health trauma team saves hundreds of lives a year. But one of the most talked-about and best-remembered "saves" is Officer Paul Latschar, an Omaha police officer shot by a gang member. One of the surgeons that night said they had a five-minute window to save their severely-wounded patient.
Officer Paul Latschar and his partner in the gang suppression unit were on "hot spot" patrol, driving around high-crime areas in an unmarked car. At home, his wife Tara had friends over to celebrate their son's one-year birthday.
While Officer Latschar responded to a shooting at 44th and Laurel, his wife, daughter, son and friends had tacos and cupcakes and opened presents.
As his family went to bed, Latschar was about to stare death in the face.
He and his partner left the shooting to investigators and spotted someone they knew to be a gang member who was driving a car under a suspended license. "We'd been looking for him for a while," Latschar said. It was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. But the suspect opened fire on the officers, hitting Latschar three times in his abdomen, his left arm and on his left side below his bulletproof vest line. The last bullet damaged his small intestine and ripped open his iliac vein, a major blood vessel in his pelvis.
"I had to get out of the line of fire," Latschar remembered. He managed to get to his police radio and called a rescue squad. "I'm hit!" he said to 911. He told them he was under the street sign at 42nd and Camden.
A "help an officer" call went out. Latschar learned later that as officers throughout northeast Omaha rushed to the scene, two passed a rescue squad that had just gone out of service, flagged it down and told medics to follow. "They got to me right away. It cut maybe five minutes off getting me to the hospital." He said it was the first miracle that happened that night.
He remembered being wheeled into the trauma bay, where as a police officer he had followed other patients dozens of times. He never suspected one day he'd be fighting for his own life there. He had no pulse and was bleeding out. His blood pressure was 58 over 46.
Marcus Balters, M.D. is a specialist surgeon trained in cardiothoracic surgery. He'd been called in for the earlier shooting. He said ordinarily it would have taken him 15 minutes to get to the hospital from home but that night he was already at CUMC when the squad pulled in. Balters remembered staff telling him: "You need to go to the operating room! A police officer is coming in. He's doing very poorly. You need to help us." Latschar called this the second miracle.
"Dr. Balters just happened to be there. That was good for me," Latschar said. General Surgeon Robert Fitzgibbons, Jr., M.D., was also there. The accomplished surgeon later told the media the trauma team had only had only a five-minute window to save Latschar's life.
"He was bleeding internally and he was losing blood," Dr. Balters said. " You're pouring it in, It's pouring out." Latschar received 20 units of blood, or about twice his body's blood volume. Dr. Balters remembered Dr. Fitzgibbons cutting the police officer open. One-and-a-half inches of the officer's iliac vein had been blown apart by the bullet. Almost four hours of surgery followed. "All I had to do was sew up the vein. I was in the right place at the right time. Whether God set it up or not, I don't know the answer." Dr. Balters said. "We got the bleeding under control. Thank God I didn't have to go out and tell everyone, 'He's dead.'"
Latschar remembered waking up the next day. "Oh, man, I thought it was over," he said. "Just waking up in the hospital, I knew it was bad. It was unbelievable that I'm still alive."
He was hospitalized for about 12 days and wanted to go back to work. But he needed six months of physical therapy.
Eventually he returned to work and was promoted to sergeant. Today he donates blood regularly to help others. As a police officer he's been back to the trauma bay a couple of times since then and said it was strange to be there: "I see them (the trauma team) do to other patients exactly what they did to me." He praised the team that saved him: "They were great. They went above and beyond," he said. "I don't know how they were able to save me." He became quiet. "It was another miracle."
Latschar's daughter is eight and the son who had the birthday party that dreadful night is five now. Latschar said, "As bad as that night was for me, it was that much worse for my wife." Latschar smiled though when he talked about the new rule in the Latschar household: "I'm prohibited from ever working on my son's birthday again."
11:04 p.m. Officer Latschar rushed to trauma bay with blood pressure of 58/46 and three gunshot wounds. He is intubated.
11:09 p.m. Large bore central line placed; blood pressure drops lower
11:18 p.m. Taken to operating room with no femoral pulse; chest compressions initiated and massive transfusion protocol begins
11:28 p.m. Surgery begins with Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Balters operating; internal bleeding a major concern, four to five liters of blood discovered on opening his abdomen, further rescuscitation efforts carried out
2:30 a.m. Surgery completed