Teachers at a North End Catholic school took an hour out of their afternoon Wednesday and learned a simple technique that could save lives.
After a brief lesson and a few minutes’ practice, the school is thought to be the first in the area where every educator is trained in the proper use of a tourniquet to stop bleeding, a skill that doctors say can prevent unnecessary deaths following a sudden violent event.
The training, led by Dr. David R. King, was an outgrowth of an effort born in Connecticut following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, as doctors and law enforcement officials came together to develop strategies for minimizing deaths in such attacks.
“Sadly, a bunch of those children died from wounds that, if treated properly by a first responder, they probably would have lived,” said King, a Massachusetts General Hospital trauma surgeon and Army reservist who has treated wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Haiti following the island nation’s 2010 earthquake.
King became involved with the effort, called the Hartford Consensus, after he ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon and then returned to MGH to operate on those injured after two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and wounding more than 260.
He hopes to train more teachers and law enforcement officers because, he said, in a mass shooting or terrorist attack, the first people with access to the wounded often are not medical professionals, but simply whoever is at hand.
“The lay people, the volunteers, the teachers: Those are the people who are truly the first who can respond to these kinds of incidents,” he said.
To prepare for such unforeseen events, King and other doctors are calling for greater access to commercially manufactured tourniquets and for training in their proper use.
In a review of tourniquet use following the Marathon bombings that King co-wrote, he found that of 27 tourniquets applied that day, all that could be accounted for were improvised, and many were ineffective at stopping the blood flow.
Some Marathon bombings survivors would have been less seriously injured if proper tourniquets and people trained in their use had been available that day, King said.
At the St. John School, each classroom will be equipped with a tourniquet manufactured and donated by the Connecticut-based medical device firm Z-Medica, which has partnered with King in his effort. The devices resemble black nylon belts, such as a hiker might wear, with a black plastic wand about the size of an ink pen near the buckle.
On Wednesday, King demonstrated to the teachers and administrators how to insert the tapered end of the belt into the buckle twice, cinch the strap tight against the limb, secure it with Velcro, and then twist the wand three times and lock it in place, so that the device is so tight blood flow will cease.
“The thing is to keep it up so the Velcro doesn’t hit it,” said after-school teacher Michele DeMarco, 55, as she stretched the band across a dummy leg to demonstrate her technique for King.
“See, you’re already getting the finer points,” the surgeon responded. “I like it.”
King said deciding when to apply a tourniquet was like the famous Supreme Court description of obscenity: you know it when you see it.
“If you’re scratching your head thinking, ‘I wonder if that guy needs a tourniquet or not,’ it means he doesn’t,” he said. “The sight should be so horrifying — like Boylston [Street] in 2013 — that it should be intuitive.”
Seated at tables in the school’s art classroom, the educators became avid students, watching closely during King’s demonstration. Third-grade teacher Lee Bogaert wore a grimace of dismay as she listened intently to his directions.
“You put yourself in the position of having to do this for one of your kids,” the 27-year-old explained later. “It’s an incredible thing to be able to do, but thinking about the circumstance that you would need to do it is upsetting.”
The scenario also hit home for fourth-grade teacher Amy Tobin, 25, who grew up in Brookfield, Conn., about a 10-minute drive from Sandy Hook Elementary.
“It’s difficult to get reminded of that, of what happened,” she said.
She said it was initially a challenge to get the tourniquet tight enough, as she practiced on her own leg, but that the device itself was unintimidating.
“The situation is scary, but this isn’t scary to me,” she said, holding the tourniquet.
King said that for him, preparing the teachers at the St. John School, where his two daughters are students, was only the beginning.
“My next move is a phone call to Commissioner Evans because I want to bring this training to every Boston police officer,” he said. “And I’ll go and do it myself.”