Heroic Race to Save Boy’s Life
Around the time Buford O. Furrow Jr. allegedly walked into the Jewish community center with an automatic weapon on a deranged mission that would shock anew this gun-prone and gun-weary land, paramedic Todd Carb was puttering around a firehouse nearby.
Over at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, Dr. Charles Deng, an emergency medicine specialist, was in the ER studying patients’ records. Dr. Clarence Sutton Jr., a trauma surgeon, sat at his desk, for once with the TV off--and thus he would not learn of the victims until they were rolled in the door.
The chaplain, Brother Joe McTaggart, was on a mission of his own, driving to a hospice to comfort the dying.
They are only a few of the many souls who would respond to the mayhem that was first described in a 911 call at 10:49 Tuesday morning from the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.
The most grievously injured of the five people Furrow hit when he squeezed off some 70 rounds in less than three minutes was 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish. A 9-millimeter bullet tore into his backside and straight through his abdomen. Another bullet ripped through his left thigh, pulverizing the bone.
Trauma specialists refer to the “golden hour,” the scant time for saving a critically injured person. In this case, an hour was an eternity they did not have.
Within five minutes, paramedics from Los Angeles Fire Department Station 87, about two miles away in Northridge, arrived at the community center. The stench of burned gunpowder still hung in the air. Shell casings littered the floor.
Carb was the first firefighter to reach the boy. “He looked mortally wounded,” Carb said. “I had doubts he could hold on.”
The rescue of this ebullient boy--who was taken off a ventilator Saturday, his condition upgraded from critical to serious--is a story of medical expertise flawlessly wielded, of a young life plucked from savagery’s foaming maw. But it is more than that.
One of the virtues of a great metropolis is propinquity, what might be called the gift of closeness. Vital to this case was the nearness of both the firehouse and the hospital to the community center.
But another sort of closeness also figures in the rescue, and perhaps can serve as an antidote to the poisonous doctrines embraced by Furrow, a white supremacist from Washington state who allegedly told authorities he had traveled to Los Angeles to kill Jews.
It was a close-knit rainbow staff at Providence Holy Cross in Mission Hills that worked on the 5-year-old after paramedics rushed him in. And as Brother Joe will surely exclaim until kingdom come, this remarkable diversity is a living refutation of the repugnant ideology that fueled the tragedy.
That message was not lost on Sutton either, an African American who operated on the boy for more than six hours without a break.
“I find it truly ironic,” he said, “that this guy was a white supremacist with ideals of hatred of Jews and blacks and other minorities, and he shot at Jewish people, and then a black surgeon comes along and saves this boy’s life.”
‘I Looked at Him, and His Eyes Rolled Back’
A 911 call about a man shooting a machine gun at the Jewish center reached the Fire Department at 10:50 and was routed to Station 87 in Northridge. Carb was tidying up the place, and his partner that day, 27-year department veteran Danny Jordan, was on the phone to his wife.
“A shooting at this time of day?” he remembers telling her. “Gotta go.” Crackling over the ambulance radio as they raced to the scene was a call for additional help, which they took as a bad sign.
They arrived at 10:54. Police, guns drawn, were already inside the building. Jordan went to the first victim they came upon, a 68-year-old receptionist shot in one arm and grazed across her back, and sent Carb to check on a boy lying in the hallway, a frantic young woman kneeling beside him.
Benjamin was pale, his eyes glazed, not talking, not responding, sweating, no palpable pulse in his wrist. Shock. Bloody clothes, bloody floor. Carb cut the clothes away, exposing the holes in his abdomen and buttock and leg. He tried to get an IV line in, but the blood pressure was so low the veins were flat and he couldn’t manage. Benjamin is a big kid, so they guessed he was 8 years old.
“I looked at him, and his eyes rolled back and I thought he went into full arrest,” said the 40-year-old Carb. “I grabbed him and shook him by the shoulders and he came to and looked at me. ‘Don’t do that,’ I told him.”
Jordan came over, and they agreed the best thing they could do for the boy was what paramedics sometimes call “h.a."--haul ass. “You are dealing with minutes at that point, when [a patient has] no blood pressure,” Jordan said.
Their first choice was a hospital with a specialized pediatric trauma center, but Childrens Hospital Los Angeles meant a helicopter evacuation, adding precious minutes the boy didn’t have. They lifted him onto a gurney and into the ambulance, then headed for Providence Holy Cross, about two miles away and one of just two certified trauma centers in the San Fernando Valley.
“This is Rescue 87,” Jordan radioed the hospital en route, as Carb and another paramedic tried again to get an IV line going in the boy’s arm to lessen the shock--and again to no avail. “We’ve got an 8-year-old male, multiple gunshot wounds. He’s critical, and he’s circling the drain.”
At the other end of the radio, in the bay station at the hospital, was Kathleen Rubino, supervisor of respiratory services. She recalls that Jordan sounded “upset” and said something was “very, very wrong.”
Nineteen minutes elapsed from the time the boy was wounded to the moment he was wheeled into the emergency room.
Only after the adrenaline of working on the boy wore off did the horror sink in for the paramedics. Jordan, 53, hardened by thousands of siren-wailing rides to blood-spattered scenes, said he found it hard to sleep for a couple of nights. “I don’t care how long you are on the job,” he said, choking back tears. “Kids are hard.”
The attack reminded Carb, who is Jewish, of the persecution long endured by people of his faith. “It hit a chord with me, because that happens to be my personal theological belief.”
‘If We Didn’t Do One Part, He Would Die’
It is no minor detail that the half-dozen members of the trauma team who met the gurney in the emergency room entrance did not know who the boy was. Thus they did not know if he was allergic to any of the numerous medications he was about to receive, if he was already taking another medication that might complicate treatment, if he had preexisting medical problems. Though this was an Information Age crisis, amplified by hovering TV helicopters and endless news bulletins, all the cable hookups and cell phones in the Valley were for the time being silent on the essential question of the boy’s identity.
Under Deng’s care in the ER, the nameless, unconscious boy on the gurney was subjected to a blur of procedures: a ventilator tube put down his windpipe to supply oxygen; IV lines to funnel fluids and universal, Type O blood; multiple tubes into his gut and bladder.
“All of this had to be done in a very quick time, knowing that if we didn’t do one part, he would die,” Deng said. “Plus, it was a child. A lot of our staff here have children in day-care centers. You have to deal with that too.”
The boy spent just 18 minutes in the ER, whisked to the operating room so quickly he was still wearing his sneakers. “That is an amount of time that any trauma team can be proud of,” said Deng, 34, who trained in emergency medicine at County-USC Medical Center.
In the operating room, an anesthesiologist put the boy under and Sutton opened his abdomen, promptly calling for more assistance, including that of a vascular surgeon, Dr. Mehdi Fakhrai. The most critical injuries, amid all the wreckage caused by that one bullet--from a shattered tailbone to a torn bowel--were the abrasions in a major abdominal vein and artery. The key was stopping the massive blood loss from those smallish wounds, Sutton said, which the surgeons finally did by repairing the blood vessels.
Surrounded by a growing team of doctors, nurses and technicians, Sutton patched the damage the best he could. Among many other procedures, he diverted the colon, which will necessitate using a bag for wastes, but that standard procedure is scheduled to be reversed after the rectum heals, one of his doctors explained.
Sutton, 37, was trained in trauma surgery at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook. “I have seen a phenomenal number of gunshot wounds,” he said.
While the surgeons were doing their handiwork, hospital staff dealt with the rising pandemonium outside the operating room.
Anxious parents were calling to see if their kids were among the victims. Good citizens called with offers to donate blood. The news media showed up in force. Brother Joe, a beeper-wearing man of the cloth, had been summoned back to the hospital and was helping direct traffic.
Hearing of the shooting, the boy’s parents, Charles and Eleanor Kadish of West Hills, went to the community center, where it became apparent that their 5-year-old might be one of the victims.
The Fire Department rushed them to the hospital by ambulance. Still, making a positive identification proved surprisingly difficult: The parents recognized the shoes and underwear, and they produced a photo that a hospital staffer took into the operating room.
“The worst thing you could do was tell the wrong parents,” Deng said in an interview Thursday, and then made a suggestion: “Maybe children should carry identification, at least a phone number to reach their parents.”
A chaplain phoned Rabbi Debbi Till of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge to come in and wait with the parents in a small room off the ER. “We prayed for the strength, compassion and skill of the surgeons and for a successful recovery for [Benjamin] and for strength for the family to endure this difficult time,” she said.
Parents’ ‘Overall Reaction Was Relief’
Dr. Peter Liu, a pediatric intensive care specialist, oversaw the boy’s recovery, staying with him until Benjamin was airlifted to Childrens Hospital in Hollywood that night. Aside from the burden of the wounds and surgery, the boy’s body had to cope with liters of fluids--blood, plasma, antibiotics, anesthesia, antacid, minerals--that had been injected into him.
“This is one of the 10 worst children’s cases I’ve seen, in terms of blood loss,” said Liu, who was called in from Valley Presbyterian Medical Center. Between the injury and surgery, he said, Benjamin lost practically all the 2 1/2 liters of blood in his body.
It was in the surgical recovery room that his parents saw him. “We had prepared them the best we could,” said Laura Foltz, a registered nurse and manager of the operating room. “They were a little shocked, but I think their overall reaction was relief, that they got to be next to him and hold him and touch him.”
Sister Emily, a hospital chaplain, said the solemn occasion had a joyous dimension. Benjamin was bandaged and sedated and a breathing tube was in his mouth, but when his mother got close to his ear and whispered, his heart raced and he moved his hand. “He heard their voice,” she said.
Benjamin was carted into a helicopter at 11:15 p.m. and flown to Childrens Hospital, the only certified regional pediatric trauma center in the area and one of only 10 nationwide. The next day, Dr. Richard Reynolds, an orthopedic surgeon, realigned and reset the shattered left leg in a one-hour procedure.
Doctors took Benjamin off the ventilator Saturday, upgrading his condition to serious. “A definite positive sign,” a spokesman said.
The other four victims of the Jewish community center rampage have been released from area hospitals. Furrow is in custody after surrendering Wednesday and has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and with the murder of Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American postal worker.
People who work in trauma specialize in tragedy, but the shooting of this 5-year-old disturbed many of them.
“We did what we had to do,” said Rubino of Providence Holy Cross, “but later, whether it was 15 minutes or an hour, most of us either fell apart or we needed a hug.”
Mary Jane Pettee, a registered nurse who works in the operating room, broke down two days after the event as she discussed her feelings with a dozen others who had had a hand in the boy’s care.
“This really affected us,” she said, crying, “because that could be our child, that could be my son. I went home later that night and saw my 10-year-old and, wow, I just lost it.”
A hazard of this line of work, said the hospital’s supervisor of social services, Karen Roberson, is “vicarious traumatization.”
For the caregivers, the traumatic part was the warped genocidal hatred behind the attack, and to counteract that, Brother Joe and Sister Emily pointed to the diversity of people who pulled together to rescue the boy.
“There were people of every denomination and culture side by side in the operating room,” Sister Emily said.
“There was a wealth of goodness,” Brother Joe said. “That is the antithesis of hatred.”
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When Seconds Count
Within minutes of the shooting Tuesday at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, rescue personnel began attending to the victims, especially the grievously wounded 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish.
10:49 a.m.: 911 call made from the Jewish community center after Buford Furrow allegedly enters and opens fire.
10:50: Call routed to Los Angeles Fire Department Station 87 in Northridge.
10:54: Firefighters and paramedics arrive on the scene.
11:08: Paramedics transporting Benjamin arrive at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
11:26: Surgery begins.
6:00 p.m.: Surgery ends (approximate) .
11:15: Boy is taken by helicopter to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles for additional surgery and intensive care.