Milwaukee shootings strain Froedtert trauma center, staff

Milwaukee’s homicide rate is on yet another record-breaking pace as gun violence spikes.

Medical advances improve the survival odds for victims, but it is taking a toll on the people who save them.

“I think every time my trauma pager goes off, I get this little pit my stomach,” said Dr. Libby Schroeder with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

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That is when the clock starts ticking for Schroeder. As a trauma surgeon, she has learned to check her emotions at the door.

“When there’s something really bad you can tell from the page, and sometimes it gives me a couple minutes as I’m walking down here to collect myself,” she said. “My job is to keep a level head and then be able to do whatever I can to save that patient”

Dr. Libby Schroeder’s trauma pager

Schroeder said the trauma center used to see an average of one gunshot victim per week; it is now on track to see an average of one person per day. The job does not stop with healing the physical wounds.

“Recognizing that we can sew up these holes and fix the bones and these organs, and we send these patients back out into their communities and make sure we are addressing the needs that they have,” said Schroeder.

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“We worked a lot with the patients that came through: OK, let’s recalibrate your sense of safety. So what is a safe place you can go? Who are the safe people for you to be around?”

Going through the process at a rapidly-increasing pace with younger loves on the line, the trauma staff is experiencing trauma of its own.

Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin

“In that moment in the operating room where you realize you are on the brink of losing this person and usually that’s a person who is 20,” Schroeder said. “Some of us have places picked out in the hospital where we go to decompensate after a bad case.”

“If you’re caring for someone that is the exact same age as you, and they are coming in because they just got shot, it’s one of those things were it hits home,” said Nick Jazdzewski, an emergency department nurse with Froedtert & MCW.

Froedtert Hospital trauma center

With summer just around the corner, staff members do not see an end in sight, but they do see a light: the impact of their work.

“I think if we did not have the resources down here that we do there would be a lot more people that would have died from a lot of these different trauma-related accidents,” Jazdzewski said.

When it comes to mental health, Froedtert & MCW offer staff members a peer support group. An emergency physician started it in 2019, and the group already has 310 members.

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