Dr. Donald ReiffOn January 25, 2021, an EF-3 tornado ripped through the community of Fultondale, Alabama. The 100-year-old oak tree in Arnoldo Vasquez-Hernandez’s yard did not stand up to the 150 mph winds that evening.

The tree dealt a devastating blow on the Vasquez home and, according to AL.com, ended up pinning Vasquez as he was shepherding his wife and three children to the basement of their Lykes Boulevard home. EMT Brandon Fuller and Fultondale Fire Medic Brandon Sharp were first on the scene and kept Vasquez stable until the team of four UAB nurses and doctors arrived.

The UAB team included Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery Professor and Assistant Chief Medical Officer Donald Reiff, M.D.,  Department of Emergency Medicine Associate Professor and Medical Quality Officer Blayke Gibson, M.D., Medical Emergency Team (MET) & Emergency Services Clinical Specialties Nurse Manager Sherichia Hardy, and Director of Emergency Services at the UAB Medicine Gardendale Freestanding Emergency Department India Alford.

In an effort to save Vasquez’s life, the team performed an in-the-field amputation, while the fire department monitored the compromised structure of the home. In the crumbling home, between boards, walls and the tree itself, Reiff and Gibson led the successful amputation to free Vasquez from entrapment.

The heroic pod of four– Reiff, Gibson, Hardy and Alford–is a part of an ongoing initiative the UAB Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery developed in 2019: the UAB SWIFT Team, which stands for Surgical forWard Intervention for Trama. The pioneering team focuses on innovative approaches to pre-hospital care – incorporating new technologies and taking doctors to the scene – with the goal to help to reduce preventable deaths after injury.

Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery faculty coined the idea and concept paper for SWIFT. They ultimately see SWIFT performing most efficiently through collaboration with the following departments:

  • UAB Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
  • UAB Department of Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency Medical Services, Greater Birmingham Area
  • Birmingham Regional Emergency Medical Services System (BREMSS)
  • Trauma Communication Center, Birmingham
  • US Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST), based at UAB Hospital

“Mr. Vasquez’s story highlights successful implementation of our SWIFT approach in action,” said Jeffrey Kerby, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. “It is a prime example of the life-saving work that this team will do as we continue to solidify the funding for our team and convince key stakeholders of the importance of pre-hospital care. We are so proud of the work of the team to save Mr. Vasquez’s life.”

The on-the-field amputation has since been covered in a CBS 42 article as well as an AL.com feature and various other local outlets. If you would like to learn more about the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, we encourage you to visit this page.