Penn doctors teach West Philly students how to ‘Stop the Bleed’ and save lives

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Jahmir Coulter grimaced as Najeer Francis tightened a combat-grade tourniquet around his right arm.

The pressure didn’t feel so good.  

“Make him stop,” moaned Coulter Tuesday night inside a tidy medical school classroom.

“He saved your life,” said Jeremy Cannon, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, as the device was unfastened and removed.

Coulter and Francis paired up during the hands-on portion of a “Stop the Bleed” program at Penn, organized for students at Sayre and West Philadelphia High Schools.   

Launched by the White House in 2015, “Stop the Bleed” is a national campaign aimed at building a grassroots community of people who know how to help someone who has been shot or stabbed and is likely bleeding to death – something that can happen within five minutes if no one intervenes.

At the training, participants learn how to place tourniquets above a life-threatening injury to stop the bleeding below.

With the help of plastic limbs, they’re also taught how to pack a gushing bullet hole or gash with gauze, and apply pressure to stop the blood flow until an ambulance arrives.

Cannon, who led Tuesday’s class, said both basic techniques are invaluable in a city such as Philadelphia, which logs hundreds of shootings each year.

“I see situations on a nightly, weekly, monthly basis where a tourniquet would have potentially been life-saving,” said Cannon.

Francis, a junior at Sayre, wishes he knew this skill last year, when a high school friend was fatally shot in the street.

“No one was around. It was late at night,” said Francis quietly.

By the time the ambulance got there, it was too late.

Sayre junior Dyshanae Brown came for the free pizza, but walked away from the program with a few takeaways from the hour-long lesson. She’s never come face-to-face with someone who is bleeding to death, but she’s glad she knows how to help now if she ever does.

“Now that I’m sure that I actually know the basics, now that I know that if it actually happens, I’m gonna be ready, I’m gonna be there and I would be the reason why someone gets to live,” said Brown.

“Stop the Bleed” programs teach people the basics of bleeding control with specialized tourniquets and gauze, but the training does not demonstrate how to use everyday items in life-saving situations. 

Emphasizing tourniquets also has a downside.  Many traditional first aid classes don’t teach it, because placing one on a limb increases the risk it will have to be amputated.  The trainers acknowledge this risk, but say when someone is bleeding to death and the ambulance has been delayed, it is the best chance at survival.

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