Care under fire: Nebraska Medicine physicians play key role on tactical response team

Published February 1, 2021


Care under fire: Nebraska Medicine physicians play key role on tactical response team

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, was almost the last day of 18-year-old Zoey Reece Atalig Lujan’s life.

"Her injuries were so severe we thought at one point during the first night she would not survive, or if she did, she would have a poor quality of life," says Lujan’s aunt, Joy Atalig-Richardson.

Lujan was one of two shooting victims critically injured in an attack at the Sonic Drive-In in Bellevue, Nebraska. Two others died.

"Zoey does not remember anything from the night of the incident," Atalig-Richardson says. "She has only recently been told what happened to her and her coworkers and is learning to cope with it."

The crime scene involved an active shooting scene, and a massive fire reportedly set to a U-Haul trailer by the accused gunman.

When police and firefighters rushed to help, they weren’t alone.  STacMed (Sarpy County Tactical Medic Team) deploys alongside Sarpy County’s SWAT team and law enforcement agencies to provide Tactical Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) during critical incidents.  This specialized team utilizes physicians as well as dual-trained law enforcement officers and firefighters to provide care. Among the STacMed team members is Eric Ernest, MD, Division Chief for Prehospital and Emergency Medical Services at Nebraska Medicine.

"It was definitely a chaotic scene. Nothing that I’ve been exposed to before or even been close," Dr. Ernest says. "It’s basically care under fire." 

Law enforcement "hot zones" involve a direct and immediate threat to personal safety or health. Typically in that scenario, law enforcement officers must clear the scene before paramedics can safely render aid to the injured. But because of their special training, STacMed members don’t wait. They rush to help those who need it, even in the most dangerous conditions. When timing is critical, they can help with tourniquets to control bleeding or provide other emergency care, such as airway management.  

"You rely on your team. It would be highly dangerous if we just sent physicians out into the field with no other protection," Dr. Ernest says. "Part of our training is that we have two law enforcement officers who are both armed. They carry shields and equipment that if I need to provide care, they can be my cover, and they can remain focused on the surroundings to keep us as safe as possible."

Along with Dr. Ernest, Nebraska Medicine EMS physicians Abraham Campos, MD, and Shaila Coffey, MD, also work with STacMed, not only responding to calls in the community but also participating in monthly sessions that involved both medical and tactical training.

Sarpy County Tactical Medic Team
Sarpy County Tactical Medic Team*

Two of the law enforcement officers who participate on the STacMed team were able to render aid to the two shooting survivors that night, including Papillion police officer Chris Goley.  

"Nebraska Medicine’s involvement has been instrumental in STacMed’s success," says Goley, "They not only provide us with emergency medicine physicians who serve on the team but also drafted protocols specific to our mission of providing medical care in a hot zone."

Those protocols and that training are credited for saving two lives.

"It was a phenomenal effort to be able to get the results we did," Dr. Ernest says. "I also want to compliment the care provided by the Bellevue Fire Department. They did a phenomenal job taking over care and rapidly transporting the patients to Nebraska Medical Center. I think this really highlights the team-based approach to these types of incidents and shows the importance of the relationships that Nebraska Medicine has with our prehospital partners."

In addition to STacMed, Dr. Ernest also serves as the medical director for the Bellevue Fire Department. 

Lujan’s family says Zoey is working hard daily in a rehabilitation center, growing stronger mentally and physically each day. So much has changed since that night. 

"We believe if it was not for the first responders at the scene and first responders at the hospital, Zoey would not be here today," says Atalig-Richardson. "We believe the care she was given and continues to get through Nebraska Medicine will give her the opportunity to make a full recovery."


*From left to right: Dennis Svoboda, Lieutenant, Sarpy County Sheriff's Office, Ryan Boetger, Paramedic/Firefighter, Papillion La Vista Fire Department, Karl Meister, Officer, La Vista Police Department, Carol Gupton, EMS Manager, Papillion La Vista Fire Department, Eric Ernest, M.D., FACEP, FAEMS, Medical Director, Abraham Campos, M.D. FAEMS, Assistant Medical Director, and Chris Goley, Officer, Papillion Police Department, STacMed Team Leader