One year later: ORMC emergency room staffers remember Pulse

Doctors, nurses say June 12 started as a slow morning

ORLANDO, Fla. – A sea of blue police lights on Orange Avenue greeted Orlando Regional Medical Center emergency room staff when they arrived to work on the morning of June 12.

ORMC staff members said that's when they knew they needed to get inside and start saving lives.

"We were pulling people out of trucks and ambulances, triaging them as they went in," EMT Jacob Zchiegner said.

He said he was on the receiving line at ORMC that morning -- a morning he said was unusually slow until the shooting at Pulse Nightclub.

"I had SWAT banging on the door, and I opened the door, and he said, 'I have a patient in the back, and you might have 20 more coming,'" Zchiegner said.

"The first patient hit the door, and there was another one right behind it," trauma nurse Jaimee Hahn told News 6.

"It was completely different from anything I've ever seen," emergency room nurse Libby Brown said.

"I feel like most of the night, I kind of spent it on autopilot," said nursing assistant Corrine Medeiros, who was entering her third week of internship training when the attack happened.

"At one point -- I always wear sleeves to work to cover up tattoos -- and I had ripped off one of my sleeves to use a tourniquet because I couldn't find any at the time," Zschiegner said.

"We were totally focused on taking care of the victims," said Dr. Michael Cheatham, a trauma surgeon at ORMC who worked with a team of other surgeons that morning to save as many lives as possible.

One year after the attack at Pulse, ORMC staffers said they're looking forward, but will not forget what their team experienced.

"Every time they come to the office, their smile is a little bigger," said Dr. Chadwick Smith, ORMC trauma surgeon. "They look a little healthier. They look a little bit more mentally healthy."

"This is still something that I think about on a daily basis," said Dr. Andrew Loudon, a surgery resident at ORMC. "Initially, I didn't think it would last this long with me. I thought it would be something that would be on my mind for a couple weeks, and then it would fade off, but this is something that I will probably remember for the rest of my life."

Holly Stuart's job the morning of June 12 was to help friends and family who had gathered in the hospital's waiting room.

"It was a Saturday night at a club, and so the patients that we took in so quickly … You're less concerned with who they were," she said. "We were more concerned with saving their lives."

One year later, Stuart said her job that morning has come full circle.

"The president of ORMC and I were teaching orientation the other day, and this young man stood up, and we asked everybody to tell unique stories. He said he's one of 11 children. He came to work here because his mom was one of the ones who died at Pulse. That's huge," she said.

The new employee's mother was Brenda McCool, 49, a two-time cancer survivor before she was killed at Pulse.

She said it's a testament to the critical, life-saving work the staff performs everyday at ORMC.

Some of the doctors and Eric Alberts, manager of corporate emergency preparation, toured the country one year after the mass shooting talking with other hospitals.

They said they want to share what they learned from the morning of June 12, and they want to drive home the point to other cities and other hospitals that it's not a matter of if something like this will happen where they live, but it's a matter of when.

About the Author: