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November 21, 2018

This doctor went to treat a Mercy Hospital shooting victim—and saw the patient was a friend and former colleague

Daily Briefing

     When John Purakal, an emergency physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, learned his hospital would be receiving patients from the shooting at Mercy Hospital on Monday, he went to the trauma bay, ready to step in and help. But his readiness turned to devastation when he saw the first patient to arrive was his friend and former colleague Tamara O'Neal, an emergency physician at Mercy who was killed in the shooting.

    From shootings to hurricanes: How can your hospital prepare for disasters?

    Shooting at Mercy Hospital

    At about 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Juan Lopez approached O'Neal, who he was previously engaged to, in the hospital's parking lot. Lopez began arguing with O'Neal, and when a friend of O'Neal's tried to intervene, Lopez lifted his shirt to reveal a gun, causing O'Neal's friend to flee the scene. Moments later, Lopez repeatedly shot O'Neal.

    When police officers arrived at the hospital, the gunman opened fire on the police and fled into the ED. The police officers followed Lopez into the hospital where they exchanged gunfire with him.

    The gunman fatally injured Officer Samuel Jimenez, who was taken to UC Medical in critical condition and later died, and Dayna Less, a first-year pharmacy resident who exited a hospital elevator during the gunfire exchange. Lopez took his life after police arrived.

    Treating a friend

    Victims of the shooting were brought to UC Medical Center. Purakal said, "I was doing my best to help in every way that I could." However, when the situation became "too much" for Purakal, NBC News reports.

    Purakal had worked with O'Neal for three years during their residencies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and according to Purakal, seeing O'Neal on the operating table was emotionally overwhelming. "We get fairly used to dealing with trauma [and] dealing with the emotions," he said. "But when it is someone you know, that all goes out the window."

    Purakal said his fellow doctors realized "very quickly that I was in no state to be in there making primary decisions on her, and luckily there was another attending in there already and she was taking care of everything for me."

    A 'great doctor'

    Purakal said on Tuesday that O'Neal was a "great doctor" and a "pillar in the community." He added, "[A] lot of minority students really looked up to her as an African-American physician."

    Purakal praised O'Neal's pleasant demeanor as a colleague. "Even if you were having the worst day, just hearing her laugh would make you smile and laugh with her."

    Patrick Connor, chair and director of Mercy's ED, said that O'Neal was the type of doctor who would stay long after her shift ended to make sure her patients were taken care of. "If we were all ill and Tamara was going to be our doctor, we would be in the greatest hands possible," he said.

    He added, "Though this tragedy has happened, the only thing that it will do is make us more resilient, and I think that's a testament to who she was" (Johnson, NBC News, 11/20; Brice-Saddler, Washington Post, 11/20).

    From shootings to hurricanes: How can your hospital prepare for disasters?


    Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

    Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.

    Download the Resources

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