UAB medical student steps up in time of crisis

When Utah resident David Harmer was pinned between two cars, UAB medical student Will Byrd used his medical training to step in and help with focus and precision.
Written by: Teresa Hicks
Media contact: Anna Jones

Inside WhiteCoatCeremony 4Will ByrdIn December of 2022, David Harmer went to the Salt Lake City International Airport to rent an SUV for a family Christmas trip. As Harmer, a father of four, was loading luggage into the backseat of the rental vehicle, he heard a ferocious roaring of an engine and squealing of tires. Moments later, he saw a 6,000-pound Chevrolet Suburban SUV smash into the row of rental cars within which he was standing. Harmer tried to jump out of the way but was pinned between two vehicles.

“I could feel the sheet metal crumpling around my pelvis,” Harmer said. “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 University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. 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,” Byrd said. “It took me less than 10 seconds to realize someone had been hit by a car.”

Byrd jumped out of his vehicle and ran to Harmer’s side. Although Byrd says nothing ever fully prepares one for moments like this, he says his medical training taught him how to overcome anxieties and react with focus and precision.

1204825466442243.4wxzY42sgw7F6oyedZ4o height640In December of 2022, Utah resident David Harmer (middle) was loading his luggage into an SUV for a family trip when he heard a ferocious roaring of an engine and squealing of tires. Minutes later, he was pinned between two vehicles.Byrd quickly began to perform triage and emergency assessment to ensure that there were no immediate, life-threatening injuries.

“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 cellphone 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.”

Byrd credits the training he received in trauma orthopedic surgery and says he is most proud of the peace and comfort he was able to provide to both David and Elayne Harmer.

1204825466442247.vZCwLSIS6HRHwppifQfg height640Byrd and his wife on their vacation in Utah.“Being a part of those situations during my surgery rotation played a huge role in my preparedness for this incident,” Byrd said. “Maybe I was supposed to be there. 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,” Elayne said.

Byrd entered medical school with an interest in orthopedic surgery and says this incident has only further confirmed his interest in this specialty. In the future, he hopes to match in an orthopedic surgery residency program and complete a trauma fellowship after his residency.

David Harmer is experiencing a steady recovery after undergoing pelvic surgery. He says he is most looking forward to participating in next year’s ski season, given the proper medical clearance.

The Harmers and Byrds plan to reconnect with each other the next time the Byrds are in Salt Lake City.