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Fábregas: Hospital trauma workers heroic, too, in treating school stabbing victims

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Saturday, April 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

In the minutes after victims of savage stabbings at Franklin Regional Senior High School arrived at Forbes Hospital, doctors and nurses came upon a daunting realization.

The students, some of them bleeding badly, were kids they knew.

They were neighbors and their own children's friends. In the case of Dr. Mark Rubino, the hospital's chief medical officer, they were sons of mothers he treated as an obstetrician and gynecologist.

“I thought, ‘Oh my, their moms are my patients,' ” said Rubino, recalling how he watched emergency responders wheel victims into the emergency department. “I looked around and you could definitely see that many of us recognized the students.”

Though plenty has been said about the bravery displayed by Franklin Regional students and teachers — and rightly so — one remarkable aspect of this tragedy is the gallantry and fortitude shown by the health care workers who helped them. They are surgeons and nurses and first responders and social workers, but they're also parents, aunts and uncles who had to check their emotions to do their jobs. Often they had to hold back tears.

“As a father, of course I get emotional, just thinking that my daughter is about the same age (as some of the victims),” said Dr. Juan Carlos Puyana, a trauma surgeon who treated Jared Boger, 17, in UPMC Presbyterian. “The fact that we are trained doesn't mean that we don't get affected by what happened out there.”

Yet these health care professionals marched on, rushing to insert central lines, give pain medications and mend knife wounds so severe some had to be left open to avoid the risk of infection. Once the patients were stabilized, some hugged each other and cried.

For Dr. Christoph Kaufmann, a trauma surgeon at Forbes, it wasn't until the day after the rampage when it finally hit him. He swallowed hard as 16-year-old victim Brett Hurt spoke to reporters about his terrifying ordeal, recounting how he bled in the hallway, not knowing if he would live or die.

“I had to blink away a tear. ... It was the first time in this event that I felt emotional. I realized how overwhelming the grief is for these parents, to unexpectedly have their kids hospitalized or operated on; it's really a huge burden,” Kaufmann told me.

Doctors such as Rubino hardly slept in the days after the stabbings. Rubino stopped at a vigil at Mother of Sorrows Church in Murrysville that proved to be raw and emotional. When he got home, he hugged his wife of 35 years, Stephanie.

I spoke to Rubino on Thursday at Forbes, and he never showed any sign of being tired. It was evident, however, that the experience changed him. The hospital where he has worked for nearly three decades became a trauma center only in October. He teared up as he told me about the pride he felt while watching colleagues assemble for a debriefing meeting after the incident.

That's when it hit me. These doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff — they are all heroes, too. And they are part of the fabric of our communities, with opinions and questions about this tragedy.

Puyana summed it up best: “As a society, we continue to wonder what is it that we need to do for these things not to happen.”

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