“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers
As Orlando and the world mark the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shootings, reflection is commonplace. Without question, the events of June 12, 2016, will forever have an impact on scores of individuals. For those on the front lines, the events that unfolded before their eyes may never leave them; however, the tragedy may have perpetuated profound change in their lives, some for the better.
Saving Lives Together
“We carry it around in our heads, but you come to terms,” says Libby Brown, RN and certified emergency room nurse, who was working the overnight shift at Orlando Regional Medical Center June 12. “I now have more appreciation for my job and my work family. I feel a sense of happiness at work. It [Pulse] made us stronger as a team. It made us closer than we already were.”
The nine-year veteran, who joined Orlando Health three years ago, says Pulse definitely put life in perspective.
“When you think about what people lost that night,” she says, “some people never got to go home to see their families again. That gives me more appreciation for the smaller things in life and for my family and my husband.”
Strong in the Line of Duty
“I saw a difference in how my wife thought,” says Orange County Sheriff’s Office Master Deputy Jason Forgey. “In this line of work, you can get into a comfort zone. It woke her up again.”
Forgey and his wife Erica both know the job has its day-to-day dangers, especially since he encounters explosives as part of his duty. He makes sure he says ‘I love you’ when he leaves the house and kisses the kids and his wife goodbye.
The 23-year veteran of the police force was working off duty in the area near Pulse when he and his trusty K-9 companion Gunther were called in because of claims made by the shooter of possible explosives in the club. He stayed on scene and assisted with the charges used to breach the wall of the nightclub, leading to the rescue of those trapped inside. After the breach, Forgey and Gunther needed to conduct an explosives sweep inside the club. The Orlando native could not pause to take in the magnitude of the incident.
“Walking through the club at the time, I knew there was a job to do,” he says. “If I missed a cue from Gunther, I would never be able to sleep if someone was hurt.”
Afterward, he says he was able to decompress and think about what had transpired.
“It was sad,” he says. “All of those people were just there to have a good time and got caught up in all that hate.”
The Heart of Healthcare
“It makes you appreciate life as it is, that it is a blessing,” says Dr. Chadwick Smith, who was the trauma surgeon on call that night and handled the triage. “I am trying to keep in touch with old friends more than before and not let those relationships go by the wayside.”
The tragedy did allow Dr. Smith to witness firsthand how well his team could work through controlled chaos based on trust. Most of the team had known each other for more than 10 years leading up to June 12, allowing for highly efficient and effective care amidst a hectic situation.
One positive many Orlando Health team members agree on that arose from Pulse is the chance to teach other hospitals how to deal with a mass causality incident.
“We have been all over the country talking about our response,” says Dr. Smith. “We are educating others on how to make plans and be ready for this type of thing in the future because it will happen.”
While the medical team has been helping others by telling their stories about Pulse for months, he says it has been hard for him to gain full reflection, even a year later.
“The emotional part keeps getting opened up,” he says.
Pride in The City Beautiful
Pride is a recurring theme with first responders and front-line medical teams. Pride in their teams. Pride in themselves. Pride in the community.
“I have talked with surgeons in Dallas and first responders in San Bernardino,” Dr. Smith says, “and when these things happen, there is a huge response from the community and the world. The support that poured into Orlando showed the positive side of humanity.”
He says he will certainly retire here if he can. “I love this community, and I’m not from here,” says the Maitland resident, who is a native of Tennessee.
“How we were able to help so many innocent victims makes me so proud to be a nurse,” adds Brown. “And it still gives me chills to think of how much love the community gave. I am really proud to live in Orlando. There is so much love and support here.”
For Forgey, he was a bit surprised how well residents banded together following Pulse because he had seen that sense of community diminish over time.
“Now it has kind of revived,” he says.
Another positive gained from Pulse.
Survivor Moving On
Congratulations to Amanda Grau, a survivor of the Pulse shootings, on her upcoming nuptials in December. Grau, who is living in Tampa and doing well with her recovery from her gunshot wounds, endured two surgeries that were performed by Dr. Chadwick Smith. In September 2016, Grau was introduced to America on the Dr. Oz Show when she surprised Dr. Smith and other surgeons on duty that night who were being thanked and honored by Dr. Oz.