The grisly parade of casualties rolled and carried into Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center the night of Oct. 1 is seared into Dr. Allan MacIntyre’s memory. The seasoned trauma surgeon has years of experience dealing with firearm violence, but nothing prepared him for the waves of critically injured concertgoers, so many of them with gaping gunshot wounds to their heads.
“These weren’t people involved in gang warfare and even then we never see so many head shots at once,” MacIntyre recalled. “And they just kept being brought in by pickups, vans, cars and ambulances.”
One of the head shot victims, who arrived in the back of a pickup truck, was Tina Frost, a 27-year-old Maryland native and San Diego transplant who was attending the Route 91 Harvest festival with her boyfriend. A bullet entered the certified public accountant’s right eye and damaged her brain to an extent that remains unclear, leaving her in a coma in Sunrise’s intensive care unit.
Like the 58 people who died and the nearly 500 others who were wounded in the Oct. 1 massacre, Frost was shot by Stephen Paddock, who was firing rifles converted into virtual automatic weapons downward from the 32nd floor of the adjacent Mandalay Bay casino.
Angle or intent?
Even though Paddock’s angle may have accounted for the high number of head wounds, MacIntyre still wonders whether the gunman was deliberately trying to inflict maximum carnage from his sniper’s perch.
“I saw that scope he was using and I can’t stop wondering whether he aimed for the heads,” he said.
Given the severity of Frost’s wound, MacIntyre and the other trauma surgeons working at Sunrise quickly called for a neurosurgeon.
Dr. Keith Blum, who said he saw at least 10 gunshot wounds to the head that night — “and probably more” — stepped in and worked to keep Frost alive.
“There’s a 90 percent mortality rate for people shot in the head,” Blum said this week. “What you’re hoping for are skull fractures, people who’ve been grazed. High-velocity rifle bullets to the brain aren’t easy to deal with.”
Blum said at first Frost wasn’t moving her extremities, leading him to fear the worst. But when she began moving, he thought surgery might save her and she was brought to the operating room.
The surgery on Frost took three hours and was extremely delicate.
Blum said that after making an incision from one ear to the other and peeling her scalp back, he could see the extent of the damage and how it shattered bones in the front of her skull and forehead, injuring the frontal lobes of the brain.
He saw no alternative but to remove Frost’s damaged right eye. Then he removed as many of the bullet fragments and shrapnel as possible and cut a section of bone from her skull to give the brain room to swell.
It was touch and go for a while, but Frost pulled through the surgery. And in the days since, she has given her family, boyfriend and doctor reasons to hope that she will pull through again.
Blum called her survival “miraculous.”
‘Sometimes she hears me’
“She’ll have pieces of the bullet in her brain forever,” said Frost’s mother, Mary Moreland, who flew to Las Vegas from her home in Maryland as soon as she learned the terrible news. “But her vitals are stable. And she’s breathing on her own a little.
“Sometimes she hears me when I talk and squeezes my hand,” she said.
Tina has a growing cheering section for her fight.
Her mother and father, Rich Frost, and boyfriend, Austin Hughes, have been taking turns staying through the night with her.
“And we have family and friends coming from Florida, Oregon, California and New York, ” Moreland said.
Rich Frost said Wednesday that he, too, is heartened by the progress Tina has made.
“I was told 90 percent of those shot as she was die,” he said. “Well, it looks like she’s in the 10 percent. … Slowly but surely she’s making progress.”
He said she’ll need a lot of rehabilitation and he hopes it can be done in the Maryland area, where much of the family lives.
“Having family and friends around means a lot,” he said.
Hughes, who lives in San Diego, said he and Frost attended the concert with several friends from California. Tina and Austin were near the front of the crowd to the left of center stage. They began running when the shots started, but did not get far before Tina was shot in the eye.
Off-duty firefighter aids rescue
Hughes said he lay with her on the ground and took off his shirt to use as a compress to slow the bleeding. Soon after, an off-duty fireman he knew only as Shane came to help carry her away from the stage to a spot behind a car as shots continued to rain down on the scattering crowd.
They carried her twice more, covering about 100 to 150 yards total, Hughes guesses, before loading her into a pickup truck with other injured, which raced them to Sunrise.
Moreland said her daughter, a star on her high school soccer team who continued to play in two adult leagues in San Diego, was at least partially conscious after arriving at the hospital, though “the nurse said you couldn’t understand her.”
Tina’s family has been using the internet to keep her friends and loved ones up to date on her situation.
On Oct. 2, Tina’s sister, Meghan, wrote on Facebook: “They took out a bone from her (Tina’s) forehead to allow the brain room to swell, that will stay out for a few months.”
Her dad took up the narrative on Oct. 5, posting: “Tina’s third night in ICU has been her best. Small, but critical steps, in her marathon.”
Tina’s third night in ICU has been her best. Small, but critical steps, in her marathon.
The same day, her mother wrote: “The doctors explicitly expressed to us that it is very common for head trauma patients to have a recovery that ebbs and flows; we may see improvement one day, then none the next. Once again, we are overwhelmed and grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have received.”
‘You just don’t know’
Mary Moreland said she’s praying her daughter will make a strong recovery and that she can place her in one of the country’s best rehabilitation centers for people who have been brain injured. She has created a GoFundMe drive to help pay for what are certain to be monumental medical bills.
She also said Tina’s employer, the multinational business services giant Ernst & Young, and Moreland’s employer, WILLCO, a property management and development company in the D.C. area, “have been amazing in their support and helping out in many different ways.”
On Tuesday, she was excited to learn that Dr. Blum had contacted KLS Martin Group in Florida, which agreed to donate implants that will be needed to surgically repair her facial and eye areas.
“When Dr. Blum read me the letter that they were going to do that, I cried,” she said. “I know Tina is going to need extensive plastic surgery and time, but she’s going to make it.”
Blum knows better than to predict the extent that a patient can recover from such a terrible trauma. But neither is he discounting Tina’s chances.
“You just don’t know how far back someone can come,” Blum said.
Ex-astronaut provides shot of hope
Tina Frost’s mother, Mary Moreland, and boyfriend, Austin Hughes, received a strong shot of hope Wednesday from a very knowledgeable source: retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
Kelly is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in January 2011 as she was meeting with constituents near Tucson. Giffords partially recovered and briefly returned to Congress before resigning her seat in 2012.
Moreland said Kelly had “heard about Tina’s fight in the news … and came to the hospital for a private meeting with the family.
“He was very informative about rehabilitation from gunshot wounds,” Moreland said. “What he said was very relatable to us. … He said rehab is very long and to be strong. He gave us incredible new hope. He was very confident.”