The Uber driver had almost made it to the drop-off point near Allegiant Stadium with third-year medical student Elizabeth (Liz) Groesbeck and a friend in the back seat. The two were on their first date and headed to the Aug. 14 Las Vegas Raiders game, the first allowing full capacity in Allegiant Stadium since the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.
Traffic was slow as thousands of people walked toward the stadium in 107-degree heat. Stopped at a red light, about to make the final turn before reaching the stadium, Groesbeck saw what looked like the immediate aftermath of a hit-and-run accident less than 20 feet away. She suddenly told the driver “I need to go see if that guy is OK.”
Groesbeck bounded from the Uber, leaving her keys, phone, and date behind.
“I saw a man on the ground and an SUV on the curb. It had to have happened seconds before,” she said. “People were starting to gather in the area, a few people were screaming.”
That’s when the 28-year-old student at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, who fortuitously had just finished her emergency general surgery rotation the day prior, walked through the crowd and kneeled on the ground next to the injured man. She immediately saw why people were screaming — one of his arms was detached from his body.
“Onlookers were frantic and panicking," Groesbeck said. "I told a bystander to call 911 and assigned someone to comfort his wife and get her somewhere that she didn’t have to see the gruesome scene.”
Known to classmates as a natural-born leader who played collegiate volleyball and still plays competitive ultimate frisbee, Groesbeck felt no hesitation in taking charge of the situation.
“He was supine and breathing. A physician assistant (PA) student who happened to be nearby came forward and asked if she could help, and I got her to help with the tourniquet.”
The pair asked onlookers for belts, which they used to control the bleeding.
“There was a significant amount of blood in his mouth, but I didn’t want to move him at all, as there was a high index of suspicion for spinal injuries. One bystander who wanted to help, but had no medical training, kept yelling ‘Roll him on his side!’ but I told him no.”
Seeing the injured man was having trouble breathing, Groesbeck got a jersey from someone in the crowd and repeatedly cleared the blood away from his mouth, which allowed him to breathe.
Elizabeth remembers the energy spent communicating with boisterous onlookers, who “had their hearts in the right place,” was a surprisingly challenging aspect. “I refused to let a bystander stick a straw down his throat to ‘help the breathing,'” she said.
Groesbeck and the PA student (they never got to exchange names or numbers) stayed with the man until EMS arrived to transport the patient.
“I eventually got most of the blood off me with sanitizing wipes from a nearby police officer, and then my date and I continued on to the Raiders game.”
The story in the media that night was not about two Las Vegas health care students who put their early training to use saving a man’s life, but rather about a hit-and-run accident that left a man in critical condition and snarled stadium traffic.
Three days later, after learning the patient survived and reflecting on what had transpired that day, Groesbeck sat down and wrote a thank-you note to Dr. Douglas Fraser, the associate professor of surgery and UMC trauma chief who taught her the life-saving techniques she used outside Allegiant Stadium.
The fact that one of his medical students stepped up in a moment of crisis is more than gratifying to Fraser, a well-respected trauma surgeon and educator.
“It was extremely thoughtful that she wrote and communicated with me after the event,” Fraser said. “My greatest joy in medicine is teaching the physicians of tomorrow and to have them put into practice what I teach them in the classroom and on the hospital wards.
“Liz was out in the field and put herself at risk in a non-controlled environment. Usually, I don’t like hearing about students who risk their own lives while trying to help others – they don’t have the protective gear, they don’t have the big red trucks with flashing lights, or partners to protect them at the scene. This was definitely above and beyond. I’m very proud of Liz and glad that she is OK and the patient is alive because of her heroic actions.”
One of the next big steps for Groesbeck in medical school is choosing a specialty. So, will it be emergency medicine, surgery, or something else?
“I’m not sure yet,” she said. “But I know this much: using the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired to help people in crisis is incredibly rewarding. I’m looking forward to applying those skills for the rest of my life.”