Two gel-lined pieces of plastic and the quick thinking of Newport News Police Officer Brendon Walzak may have meant the difference between life and death for a 46-year-old man who was shot in the chest Monday night.
Walzak knew he had to act quickly because the man had suffered a sucking chest wound, which occurs when trauma to the chest causes the lungs to deflate, suffocating the victim. As dispatchers advised that someone needed to apply direct pressure to the wound, Walzak, outfitted with a kit of items to help treat serious injuries, used a device called a HALO Chest Seal — made up of two pieces of plastic with a gel lining — to close it.
The man’s injuries were considered life-threatening when he was taken to Riverside Regional Medical Hospital. Later in the week, police said the man was still in the hospital, though an update on his condition was not available Friday. Police said Walzak’s action may have saved the man’s life.
Walzak said he went on autopilot during the call, relying on his previous training on treating victims with similar injuries.
“If you go home and at the end of the day, one person is safer, one person’s alive, one person sleeps a little better in bed knowing we have officers on the street who do the same thing, it’s worth it,” Walzak said. “It’s what everyone gets in the job wanting to do.”
It was the first time Walzak, who has been a Newport News police officer for only a year, used items from the kit on the job. Along with the HALO Chest Seal, the kit also includes QuikClot Combat Gauze that is used to control bleeding, a combat action tourniquet and a pouch for the items that can be attached to vests police officers wear.
Walzak said he received his kit from Newport News Master Police Detective Matt Overton, who also showed Walzak how to use the items. Overton, an Army medic, and Walzak served in Iraq together in 2011 with the Army National Guard, and Walzak said his military background helped him during Monday’s call, too.
Police officers in Newport News are already issued and trained to use SWAT tourniquets, which stretch and wrap to fit victims of all sizes, and Walzak is leading a push to equip officers with kits like his, which can provide a quick response for victims of traumatic injuries until medics arrive, especially in situations such as mass shootings with many victims, for example. Overton estimates that each kit would cost between $40 and $60, and the department is in the early stages of coming up with a way to acquire them. Currently, officers are allowed to buy their own, though few have them.
Overton, the master tactical medic for the city’s police tactical operations unit, provides tactical trauma life support training to officers, including those on the SWAT team, as well as during police academy. He also provides trauma training to officers in other departments such as York and James City counties through a company he operates.
“If you can save that one life, that’s what matters to us,” Overton said. “I was very proud to hear (of Walzak’s actions),” he said.