March 01, 2023

Medical Student Becomes Good Samaritan

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Elayne David HarmerElayne and David HarmerOn December 26, 2022, David Harmer went to the Salt Lake City International Airport to rent an SUV for a family Christmas trip. He had no idea how consequential this errand would become and how a third-year medical student, Will Byrd, would come to his aid.

As Harmer, a father of five, was loading luggage into the backseat of the rental vehicle, he says he heard “ferocious roaring of an engine and squealing of tires.” In a matter of seconds, he saw a 6,000-pound Chevrolet Suburban SUV smash into the row of rental cars within which he was standing.

“I turned around just in time to see it plow into the line of cars,” Harmer says, “I tried to jump out of the way, but I only got as far as the back wheel.”

The SUV, estimated to have been traveling at around 40 miles-per-hour when it slammed into the line of cars, tightly compressed Harmer between two vehicles.

“I could feel the sheet metal crumbling around my pelvis… I could feel the compression fractures, one after another.”

Harmer managed to extricate himself from between the two vehicles and fell onto the concrete of the parking garage, calling out for help. He recalls seeing several bystanders but one in particular rushed to his side: third-year Heersink School of Medicine student, Will Byrd.

Byrd was at the airport with his wife and family, renting a car for a vacation in Utah. As he and his family were preparing to exit the parking deck, he heard the crash.

“I looked in the rearview mirror and saw people running… it took me less than 10 seconds to realize someone had been hit by a car.”

Will Byrd Utah 1 LRWill Byrd is currently a third-year Heersink medical student Byrd jumped out of his vehicle and ran to the injured person, David Harmer. He says he was apprehensive to approach Harmer at first, stating that “nothing ever fully prepares you for moments such as this.” However, his medical training had prepared him to overcome his anxieties and react with focus and precision.

He immediately began to perform triage and emergency assessment to ensure that there were no immediate, life-threatening injuries.

Harmer describes Byrd as someone who “has a serene and calm demeanor”.

“It was comforting to have a human being right there looking over me, but it was even more comforting that he was just so calm and gentle,” Harmer says. “There were other bystanders assisting, but you could clearly tell Will was in charge.”

Harmer asked Byrd to retrieve his cell phone from the rental vehicle to call his wife, Elayne Harmer.

When Elayne, who had just dropped her husband off at the airport, answered the call, she heard an unfamiliar but calm voice on the other end say, “My name is Will Byrd, I am a third-year medical student from Alabama, and I am here with your husband. He was in a car accident, but he is conscious. Please return to the airport.” Byrd remained on the phone with Elayne until she arrived at the airport.

“When he explained that he was a third-year medical student, it immediately comforted me,” Elayne recalled in an email. “Our daughter is a third-year student at the University of Utah’s med school.”

Will Byrd 5 LRWill Byrd and his wife Katie on vacation in UtahByrd credits the training he received in trauma orthopedic surgery, saying “being a part of those situations during my surgery rotation played a huge role in my preparedness.”

Byrd says he is most proud of the peace and comfort he was able to provide to both David and Elayne Harmer. “Maybe I was supposed to be there,” he reflects. “This situation reassured me that I can be calm in emergency moments such as these.”

The Harmers expressed their deep gratitude for Byrd, saying he had an excellent bedside manner and provided “five-star medical service”.

“I know Will will be an exceptional doctor just by the way he took care of David and correctly identified his three pelvic breaks,” says Elayne.

David Harmer is experiencing a steady recovery after undergoing pelvic surgery. It is estimated it will take six-to-eight weeks before his legs and hips can bear any weight and a year for a full-body recovery. He says he is most looking forward to participating in next year’s ski season, given the proper medical clearance, of course.