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Saving Lives Through the Stop the Bleed Campaign

Proper tourniquets and wound dressings can be as important to saving lives as CPR

A bystander applies a turnique to a person's arm, representing a key way to save lives after a serious injury at home or on the road.

Proper tourniquets and wound dressings can be as important to saving lives as CPR

Whether from a bullet wound or other traumatic injury, severe blood loss can kill in just five minutes. However, one-fifth of trauma deaths — the leading cause of death for Americans under age 46 — could be prevented by stanching the bleeding. That’s why Scripps doctors are getting behind the national Stop the Bleed campaign.

Supported by the American College of Surgeons, the Department of Homeland Security and numerous police departments, it aims to teach bystanders how to properly place pressure on a wound or apply a tourniquet in an emergency. Someday, kits with tourniquets and wound dressings might be found alongside defibrillators and first aid kits.

“Attention to traumatic injury is important. It will save lives,” says Vishal Bansal, MD, trauma surgery director at Scripps Mercy Hospital. Stopping bleeding can buy valuable time until emergency medical personnel arrive — after all, bystanders will always be the first of the first responders. 

Though the impetus behind Stop the Bleed was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the proliferation of other active shooter situations across the country, these techniques may prove critical in numerous other settings, says Walter Biffl, MD, trauma medical director at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. “It’s not just for those horrific shooting events. Knowing these maneuvers can be helpful in the home, if you’re driving … You can potentially save a life.”

Steps to stop life-threatening bleeding:

  1. Direct someone to call 911.
  2. Cover the wound with a clean cloth, if available, and apply firm, steady pressure with your hands.
  3. For an arm or leg wound only: Using a belt, piece of clothing, or whatever is available, apply a tourniquet 2 to 3 inches closer to the torso than the wound, avoiding joints. If needed, place a second tourniquet closer to the torso.
  4. If a tourniquet is not available, pack the wound with gauze and press down on it as hard as you can until help arrives.
Scripps Clinic vice president of primary care and internist Siu Ming Geary, MD. is featured on the cover of the September issue of San Diego Health.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.