Froedtert program helps gunshot victims recover from physical and mental injuries

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Gun violence in Milwaukee continues to skyrocket, with nonfatal shootings up nearly 35 percent compared to this time last year.

Most gunshot victims are brought to Froedtert Hospital, the only adult level one trauma center in southeastern Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, 480 people have been shot and injured so far this year.

"The last time Milwaukee saw numbers that were this high was about 30 years ago in the early 1990s," said Dr. David Milia, the medical director of the trauma program at Froedtert.

Even though these victims live, their lives are changed forever.

"These are devastating injuries," Dr. Milia said. "Firearms are designed to do one thing and one thing only and that is to inflict maximum amount of damage to tissues of everything that's in the bullets' path."

Dr. David Milia is a trauma surgeon at Froedtert.

"We are seeing more and more people shot multiple times," Dr. Milia said.

A lot of his patients will never breathe normally or function normally again. And the physical injuries are just the start.

"About 40 to 50 percent of our gunshot wound survivors develop post-trauma mental health issues," said Dr. Terri deRoon-Cassini, director of the Trauma Psychology Program at Froedtert.

Dr. deRoon-Cassini says one challenge for victims is they get out of the hospital and go home to the community where they were shot.

"All of a sudden they're registering this is not safe, I don't feel safe in my neighborhood," Dr. deRoon-Cassini said.

She says the stress of feeling unsafe has devastating consequences.

"When people are experiencing chronic high levels of stress, it impacts many systems in the body," Dr. deRoon-Cassini said. "It reduces the body's ability to fight infection and this is what can really contribute to health disparities over time."

So Froedtert Hospital created the Trauma Quality of Life Clinic which involves doctors, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists and social workers.

"I think it is really ensuring that we're looking at them as a whole being," said Dr. Colleen Trevino, assistant director of advanced practice providers and a nurse practitioner at Froedtert.

Dr. Trevino spearheaded the program.

"We're able to not only address those long-term issues to prevent the poor outcomes, but we're able to short-term get patients into safe places so that they can recover and get better," Dr. Trevino said.

They also work with the 414 Life program to try and prevent violence from spreading.

"We've been able to real-time intervene on patients and families who have had desires to retaliate," Dr. Milia said.

These experts say they view gun violence as a disease.

"We need a public health approach to gun violence just like we saw to COVID," Dr. deRoon-Cassini said.

"The violence is kind of the end of a lifetime of social research deprivation, racism and all sorts of other things going on," Dr. Milia said. "It's not necessarily the root cause."

Dr. Milia says ending the cycle violence will take public health officials, hospital workers, government, the community and programs like the Trauma Quality of Life Clinic, which is already showing success. Of the 600 patients in the clinic, fewer than five have been reinjured.

"I think for the first time in my 25-year career, I think we're making a difference," Dr. Travino said.

Froedtert Hospital's program is one of the only comprehensive programs for survivors of violence, so they are reporting what they're doing and how it's working across the country.

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