Saving a Hero: Santa Fe High School’s Officer John Barnes Reunites with Life Flight Crew

By Jade Waddy

There were countless times over the course of his 23-year career with the Houston Police Department (HPD) that Officer John Barnes witnessed Memorial Hermann Life Flight® rush to the scene and whisk away trauma victims to receive life-saving care.

He never imagined he would one day find himself aboard the signature red chopper.


The morning of May 18, 2018,  began as a regular day for Barnes, who was working as a School Resource Officer at Santa Fe High School after retiring from HPD. He and his colleagues were enjoying a special appreciation breakfast in the main office when gunfire erupted inside the school. As the shooter – who was wielding several weapons – opened fire on students at the school, Barnes sprang into action. The officer, who has been hailed a hero for his life-saving response to one of the deadliest shootings in 2018 that killed 10 and injured 13, was severely wounded in the process as a bullet pierced a major artery in his arm.

“My colleague Gary tied a tourniquet around my arm and then he engaged the gunman while other officers dragged me out of the school,” Barnes said. “I had bled out so much at that time, but I remember being put in an ambulance and faintly hearing helicopter propellers and yelling at EMT to get me on that helicopter.”

First Responders in Action

When Memorial Hermann Life Flight dispatchers learned of the school shooting, they immediately sent three helicopters to Santa Fe. Aboard the first helicopter to arrive were Life Flight Nurse John Cornell and Life Flight Paramedic Phillip Pegg. The pair immediately began consulting with the Santa Fe Fire Department and other local first responders who were first to arrive on the scene.

“As the first members of the Memorial Hermann Life Flight team to arrive, I was tasked with triaging and organizing how Life Flight responded,” Cornell said.

When the two approached the school, they were quickly alerted by paramedics onsite that one person needed to be transported.

“We noticed it was a police officer, Officer Barnes, and we immediately noticed how much blood he had already lost,” Cornell said. “Although he had a pulse, he didn’t look well.”

Upon assessing Barnes, Cornell knew their team would need to move fast and get Barnes to acute care to save his life. Cornell ensured the tourniquet tied to Barnes’ arm was appropriately placed and then started an IV line. Pegg immediately ran to get a unit of whole blood from the helicopter to begin replacing the large amount of blood that Barnes had already lost and started administering blood to Barnes as he was transported to the helicopter.

During their short trip through the school parking lot to the helicopter, Cornell noticed that Barnes’ blood pressure was dropping fast due to his loss of blood.

“He went into cardiac arrest and started coding,” Cornell said.

The team sprang into action to save Barnes. Cornell started CPR, the team inserted a breathing tube and established an intraosseous IV, a technique that allows needed fluids to be delivered directly into the bone marrow faster than a traditional IV.

The initial Life Flight team loaded Barnes into a second Memorial Hermann Life Flight helicopter carrying Life Flight Paramedic John Uranga and Life Flight Nurse Kevin Jones who transported Barnes to a local trauma hospital to receive additional care.

Barnes’ pulse disappeared. Racing against the clock, the team administered a second unit of whole blood, established a second intraosseous IV and connected Barnes to an automatic chest compression machine to continue CPR.  Halfway to the hospital, Barnes’ pulse returned.

“If we had not been able to start administering whole blood to him when we did, the outcome could have been different,” Cornell added. “He lost a significant amount of blood before he made it to the hospital.”

Barnes underwent hours of surgery and remained in the hospital for nearly three weeks. He was then transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann for inpatient rehabilitation focusing on regaining strength in his arm.

A Tearful Thank You

Nearly a year after the shooting, Barnes was given the chance to meet the paramedics and nurses who tended to him that fateful day. On a bright sunny day, as he waited to walk onto the John S. Dunn Helistop located at the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, he fought back a wave of emotion. In his hand, he held gifts for the crew who saved his life: T-shirts recognizing and honoring police officers killed in the line of duty in 2018.  

Holding the shirts, Barnes tearfully thanked the crew for everything they had done.

“I want to thank all of you for keeping me off this list,” he said.

The reunion was equally powerful for the crew who responded that day.

“It’s always great to be reunited with patients after they have gone through such traumatic experiences,” Cornell said. “This was definitely an emotional day, but it was an honor for all of us to see him again.”

WATCH THE VIDEO FROM THE REUNION BELOW

To learn more about Life Flight and Red Duke Trauma Institute, click here

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