April 16, 2020. That was the day Drew Robinson, a former Las Vegas area high school baseball star who had made it to the major leagues, chose to die by his own hand.
Long beset by depression, the 28-year-old middle infielder and outfielder pressed his handgun against his right temple and pulled the trigger.
The bullet fractured bones on the right side of his face, ruptured his right eyeball, and shattered his frontal sinus. Cerebrospinal fluid leaked. There was also a ruptured eardrum and minor fractures to the left side of his face.
Instead of dying, for 20 hours Robinson did a lot of thinking as he lay on the floor in his Las Vegas home. He showered and brushed his teeth
Eventually, he dialed 911.
Not long after the arrival of Robinson’s ambulance at the UMC Trauma Center, UNLV Medicine physicians would begin their critical behind-the-scenes roles in a surreal story of survival and mental health advocacy that ESPN has detailed in print and in an hour-long documentary, Alive: The Drew Robinson Story.
Recently, Robinson, who is hoping to resume his baseball career with the San Francisco Giants, visited with members of the UNLV Medicine medical team that he thanks for having the medical expertise necessary to help give him a new lease on life.
“I had been thinking about the doctors who saved my life,” Robinson said after his visit with UNLV School of Medicine department of otolaryngology faculty physicians. “I can’t thank them enough.
“I’m not only thinking about getting a chance to resume my baseball career. I’m also thinking about all the people I hope I can help get through times that they don’t think are winnable. There are always people you can reach out to who will help you. I hope my story will let people know I was there in that dark moment. I want people to understand the power behind talking. Reach out to help yourself and then you can help others. I want people to reach out to someone.”
Remembering The Day
When UNLV physicians, who didn’t know about Robinson’s professional baseball pedigree during his two weeks of treatment, reflect on his time at UMC, they remember a health care emergency system where everything worked as it should.
“There was a synergistic collaboration among our otolaryngology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, trauma, and nursing teams,” said Dr. Allen Young, an ENT surgical resident who saw Robinson early on during his ENT evaluation and treatment. “All our teams united together to provide surgical, medical, and mental convalescence. When he finally walked out of the hospital, he had not only recovered in body, but also in spirit.”
Dr. Douglas Fraser, the UNLV physician who heads UMC Trauma, talked and worked with Robinson after he arrived at the hospital. He remembers that Robinson was alert and talking about what happened. “We made sure he was breathing and not bleeding,” Fraser said. “We stabilized him.”
Fraser also remembers having to tell Robinson’s sister that she couldn’t visit because of COVID-19 safety protocols. And he recalls consults made in Robinson’s case with an ophthalmologist and UNLV Medicine specialists. Dr. Eden Lee, an assistant professor in the UNLV School of Medicine department of psychiatry and behavioral health, was the attending psychiatrist.
“We made sure he had the appropriate psychiatric evaluation,” noted Fraser, whose trauma team gave Robinson a birthday card and candy when they learned he’d celebrate his birthday in the hospital. “We told him we were all here for him, that we were glad he was still with us.”
A Las Vegas ophthalmologist had to remove Robinson’s right eye. He now wears a fitted prosthesis.
ENT surgical resident Young remembers clearly his time with Robinson.
“Surprisingly, even with all of his injuries, he was awake and attentive. I introduced myself and started to work on repairing his laceration at his bedside. While I was suturing, we talked about his insecurities, his feelings of poor self-worth, and his ongoing battle with depression. His inner struggle was daunting, yet there was still enduring hope in his voice. His head may have been bloodied, but it remained unbowed.”
Dr. Tina Elkins, a UNLV School of Medicine department of otolaryngology head & neck surgery assistant professor who is well known in Southern Nevada for her treatment of complex sinus conditions, oversaw the ENT team. Resident physician Dr. Nathaniel Reeve contributed to the facial surgery Elkins spearheaded.
“Dr. Elkins is a really good teacher,” Reeve said. “She walks me through the case. Anything I’m unsure of, she gives me her input.”
Elkins said the team had to wait for the swelling to reduce prior to going to the operating room. "Once he was stable, we took him to repair the right orbit (eye socket)," she said. "We had to add (titanium) plates to the outer bones of the right orbit and floor of the orbit. We also attempted to cosmetically repair the skin as much as possible. Other complications that he suffered included injury to the sinuses that could not be repaired. For a few weeks, he also had cerebral spinal fluid leaking. That eventually stopped without intervention.
"A real metamorphosis has occurred. He is back pursuing his career as a professional baseball player. He has been a strong advocate for mental health, trying to get people to lose the stigma of depression.”
One for the Team
Robinson, who played baseball at Silverado High School, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010. After seven years of the physical grind that is baseball’s minor leagues, in 2017 he received the call he’d always dreamed about when the Rangers promoted him to the majors. He played parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons for the Rangers and appeared in five major league games in 2019 for the St. Louis Cardinals. Reassignments to the minor leagues during this time only enhanced his depression.
In January, he signed with the Giants as a free agent. Lately, he’s been working out in Las Vegas prior to spring training, doing batting practice at the Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators minor league team in Summerlin.
“Drew sends me clips frequently of his batting practice, most recently a home run at the Ballpark,” Elkins said. “Amazing to see what he can do with one eye.”
Elkins is thankful Robinson visited with her medical team.
“I think the main thing about Drew’s story, that I wanted the residents to see, was their impact. So many times the attending (physician) gets credit for the outcome, but it is the team that gets you there.
“So what all did our ENT residents do? Dr. Allen Young and Dr. Yuna Kim were the first on our team to see him. Dr. Kim helped arrange his evaluation with psychiatry while Dr. Young initially repaired his facial wounds. Dr. Nathan Reeve was the upper-level resident who was with me in Drew’s surgery. He helped make decisions with me on the treatment of the fractures. Dr. Jacob Kahane, our chief resident at the time, and Dr. Albert Yang were part of the team that daily cared for and rounded on Drew while he was an in-patient. I’ve been so proud to work with them.”
Robinson, who said he couldn’t be happier with his medical treatment, said the UNLV Medicine physicians who were on call worked well under pressure.
“They’ve helped me get another chance,” he said. “I’ll always be grateful.”