January 10th, 2011
12:19 PM ET

Would you know how to help save a life?

Daniel Hernandez, 20, who was less than a week into his internship, ran to the wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' side after she was shot Saturday outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store.

Hernandez, who had received training in nursing and phlebotomy in high school, used his bare hands on the spot where a bullet had entered her head and applied pressure to stem blood loss.  Phlebotomy is the practice of drawing blood for lab tests or medical procedures. From his basic first aid training, Hernandez  knew to lift Giffords' head to make it easier for her to breathe.

Employees at the Safeway supermarket brought out clean smocks from the meat department to cover Giffords' wound until paramedics arrived, Hernandez said.

The actions from bystanders in an emergency matter, Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a spokeswoman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Those minutes and seconds do help,” she said, about quick-thinking first aid. “In trauma, we talk about the golden hour.  Getting her to a trauma center, into a scanner, into an operating room with all the ER and trauma surgeons within that hour - that definitely helps survival.”

Anytime a bystander sees a significant amount of bleeding, it’s important to compress it to stop blood loss,  said Vinocur, an emergency physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Also if possible, put a clean dressing on the wound,  Vinocur said, as Hernandez did with the help of Safeway employees.

Usually in head injuries, people don’t die of blood loss, but instead suffer from internal bleeding in the head that increases pressure on the brain, she said.

Dr. Gupta discusses how Giffords survived brain shot

In situations where there is an open head injury, try to control the bleeding, Vinocur said.  But don't use too much pressure;  “you don’t want to push anything back into the brain,” she said.

Hernandez took steps that were pivotal, Vinocur said.

He held the congresswoman’s head upright to help her breathe and prevent the tongue from obstructing her airway. Propping her head above her heart also helped reduce blood loss, she said.

In emergency situations, bystanders don’t need a lot of first aid training to put something clean on the wound and apply pressure.  If a victim  has suffered a neck injury, wait for medical professionals - unless there is more risk of bodily harm by not moving the victim.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Helen

    Daniel Hernandez is just 20? Just a brand new intern? Wow! What poise, maturity, humility and grace. This young man will go far. Kudos also to his high school for teaching him first aid skills.

    January 10, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jennifer

    Wow, I cannot believe this man is 20. He is very intelligent, poised, and mature.

    January 10, 2011 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dorado

    A lot of people can get medical training starting their freshman year of high school. i'm in a medical program at my high school and by the time i graduate i will be certified as a phlebotomist, in CPR and more. Teenagers saving lives 🙂 however you don't have to know much to save a life if you really wanted to.

    January 10, 2011 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Anne

    An intern in what? Medical interns start in July...and to be an intern at 20 you would have had to finish med school by 20. Something's wrong here.

    January 10, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • A

      c'mon stop it...how come something always has to be a big conspiracy? He wasn't a medical intern...there are many types of interns, for many types of jobs, like a magazine intern, television intern, designer intern, for anything really. In this case, he was a congressional intern under the congresswoman.

      January 11, 2011 at 01:22 | Report abuse |
    • CG

      This story doesn't even say he was a medical intern, so why would you assume that. Give this man his respect. He saved a life!

      January 11, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
  5. ana

    Anne, he is not a medical intern. He has an internship with her office, as many college students interested in politics do. This makes the story even more remarkable – perhaps he should consider a career in medicine. He certainly is an exceptional individual.

    January 10, 2011 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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    January 11, 2011 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ben G.

    I need to get re-certified. Yeah. I'd probably throw on a solar blanket, make her sit with her head between her legs and somehow do one breath for every compression. I'm pretty sure the nomenclature has changed. Damn.

    January 11, 2011 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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