Medic weighs in on guns: Dr Heather Sher, a radiologist who treated several victims of last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, says that AR-15 gunshots are much more lethal than others
A hospital radiologist who treated several victims of last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland- Florida, has described in graphic detail the catastrophic impact of high-velocity AR-15 bullets, explaining that they are more lethal than the rest because they don’t simply damage, but decimate human organs.
Dr Heather Sher, who is affiliated with Broward Health Medical Center, writes in an op-ed published in The Atlantic on Thursday, titled ‘What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns,’ that what sets AR-15 bullets apart from handgun ammunition is that they destroy the tissue surrounding the path of the bullet through an organ, usually causing fatal bleeding in the patient.
Sher, who has degrees from Harvard and University of Miami Medical School, was at work on Valentine’s Day when one of the victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had been transported to the trauma center.
The mass shooting that police say was carried out by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz left 17 people dead and 14 others injured. It later emerged that Cruz had purchased the AR-15 rifle used in the massacre legally.
Deadly weapon: An AR-15 rifle fires high-velocity bullets that shatter internal organs, cause catastrophic bleeding and leave orange-size exit wounds
Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used his legally purchased AR-15 (pictured above in the hand of officers) to barge into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and kill 17 people
Sher writes that when she looked at a shooting victim’s CT scan showing the site of the injury, it immediately stood apart to her from the thousands of gunshot wounds she has come across over the past 13 years working at the busy Florida hospital.
‘In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ,’ she explains.
But in the scan that was before her that day, ‘the organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding,’ Sher writes. ‘How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?’
When one of the trauma surgeons went to open up a young victim in the operating room, there was ‘nothing left to repair’ because a bullet from Cruz’s AR-15 had ripped an internal organ to shreds. The patient could not be saved.
For comparison, Sher says that when a gunman opened fired at the Fort Lauderdale airport a year ago, shooting 11 people from a 9mm semiautomatic handgun firing low-velocity bullets, the six victims who had been transported to her hospital that day survived.
A standard bullet from a handgun causes a laceration in an organ, akin to a knife cut (pictured in diagram above); an AR-15 bullet damages several inches of tissue around its trajectory 9not pictured)
Cruz is pictured at the moment of his arrest by police officers in Parkland after the February 14 school shooting
From a technical standpoint, Sher writes that standard wounds inflicted by low-velocity rounds from a handgun leave entry and exit wounds about the size of the bullet, connected by a linear trajectory through the body.
Unless the bullet strikes a vital organ like the heart or the aorta, causing massive bleeding, there is a good chance the victim could be saved. Not so with high-velocity AR-15 ammunition.
‘A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun,’ Sher writes.
She goes on to explain in the article that an AR-15 round travels through the body like ‘cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal.’
The tissue that comes in contact with the bullet moves away from it and then returns to its place – but is left damaged or destroyed – in a process known in medicine as cavitation.
A high-velocity bullet not only damages organ tissue that is directly in its path, but also several inches away from its path, which makes it significantly more lethal because it causes catastrophic bleeding.
She adds: ‘exit wounds can be the size of an orange.’
‘With an AR-15, the shooter does not have to be particularly accurate. The victim does not have to be unlucky,’ Sher says.
A bullet to the middle of the liver fired from a handgun is potentially survivable, barring a direct hit to the organ’s main blood supply, but a bullet from an AR-15 would cause such severe bleeding that the victim likely would not even make it to the emergency room.
A bullet from an AR-15 would cause such catastrophic bleeding that the victim likely would not even make it to the emergency room.
Sher says that having witnessed the devastating effects of AR-15 bullets on human organs only a handful of times in her career, most recently last week, she is convinced that rifles firing high-velocity bullets ‘have no place in a civilian’s cabinet.’
While she acknowledges that a comprehensive mental health reform could help rein in gun violence in the US, Sher argues that President Donald Trump and members of the US Congress should not overlook the fact that the use of AR-15 rifles ‘is the common denominator in many mass shootings.’
An AR-15 was the weapon of choice at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; in Aurora, Colorado; in San Bernardino, California; at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in Las Vegas.
Sher is not the first doctor to make a medical case for reinstating the 1994 ban on assault-style rifles, which was allowed to expire in 2004 and was never re-instated.
In an article published in Wired Magazine in June 2016, Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, similarly noted that wounds inflicted by an AR-15 are much more deadly than those caused by a handgun and look like ‘a grenade went off in there.’
According to the story, a high-velocity bullet leaves the muzzle at three times the speed of a handgun round and has enough energy to pulverize three inches of leg bone.
Sher contends in The Atlantic op-ed that banning the AR-15 should not be a partisan issue because it could drastically reduce the incidence of mass shootings and save lives.
PICTURED: Fourteen students, geography teacher, coach and athletic director shot dead in Florida high school massacre
Jaime Guttenberg, 14, (left) was described by relatives as a ‘kind-hearted, sweet’ girl. She attended the school with her younger brother who survived and rushed home afterwards. Senior Nicholas Dworet (right) was a gifted swimmer who had his sights set on 2020 Tokyo Olympics success. His devastated college student girlfriend is among those grieving his death. Friends said he was not just a talented athlete, but a ‘good guy’ who will be missed
Martin Duque, 14, (left) was missing for hours on Wednesday and his frantic family desperately appealed for him to get in touch on social media. On Thursday, his older brother Miguel confirmed his death. Martin was a freshman. Meadow Pollack, 18, (right) was preparing for college. Her father was at the school on Wednesday and showed her photograph around in the hope that she would be found alive
Cara Loughran (left) was missing on Wednesday afternoon. Her mother Denise and her father rushed to the designated hotel where parents were told to go to be reunited with their children in the hope that she would be found alive. Her grieving neighbor confirmed her death on Thursday. Alyssa Alhadeff, 15, (right) was eulogized by her mother who said she was a talented soccer player and creative mind. ‘All she had to offer the world was love… I just sent her to school and she was shot and killed,’ she said
Luke Hoyer, 15, (left) was described as a ‘precious’ child by his grandparents who confirmed his death. They found out about the shooting on television. They said he was a ‘good kid’ who ‘never got in trouble’. Joaquin Oliver, 17, (right) was also killed. Joaquin was a Venezuelan immigrant who came to the US with his family for a ‘better future’, they said on Thursday
Gina Montalto, 15, (left) was described as a ‘light and joy’. She and Jaime, another victim, volunteered at a local project called The Friendship Initiative where they acted as buddies for children with special needs. Gina’s mother Jennifer shared pleas to find her on social media on Wednesday. Alaina Petty, 14, (right) was also killed. Her Mormon church confirmed her death, saying she was a ‘valiant’ member
Carmen Schentrup, 16, (left) was also killed in the shooting. Carmen was a gifted student who last year was named as a semifinalist in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program. It includes students who score above average in their SATs or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. ROTC student Peter Wang, 15, (right) also died. His parents speak little English and relied on their neighbor to post social media appeals looking for him. They went to the Marriott hotel with other parents to wait for news of him on Wednesday night and have since confirmed that he was among those killed
Alex Schachter, 14, (left) was also killed. His mother died when he was a child and he attended the school in Florida with his brother, who survived. The teenager’s father Max said he was a ‘sweetheart of a child’ who ‘just wanted to do well and please his parents’. Helena Ramsey, 17, (right) was described by relatives as a ‘reserved’ and studious girl who was due to go to college next year
Geography Scott Beigel, 35, (left) was shot dead as he tried to lock the door of his classroom again after letting a group of fleeing students in to hide. They were running away from the gunman. Aaron Feis, 37, (right) died acting as a human shield. The track coach had thrown himself on top of the kids to stop the bullets from hitting him. He was a former student and was also a security guard at the school where he had worked for eight years
Athletic director Chris Hixon, 49, was also killed shielding students