The type of wound suffered by Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor is among the most difficult to fix, trauma experts said Tuesday after the 24-year-old gunshot victim died in a Miami hospital.
Even in a healthy young athlete with access to top trauma care, gunfire tearing through the main artery of the upper leg and abdomen can cause quick, massive blood loss. Doctors who treated Taylor have not given details of his injury or his emergency surgery, but several experts speculate that blood loss is likely what killed him.
Taylor was shot at his Miami home early Monday by an apparent intruder and airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
The body has two femoral arteries that branch off from about mid-abdomen into each thigh. They are among the body's biggest vessels, and in the groin area and upper thigh, are about as big around as an index finger.
Stopping blood loss gushing from a bullet hole in that region can be extremely challenging if the wound is close to the groin. It would be hard to put a tourniquet around it, said Dr. Gannon Dudlar, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.
An injury of this type "essentially means you can lose all the blood in your whole body within five minutes," said Dr. Mary Pat McKay, director of George Washington University's Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Rapid blood loss can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain and vital organs, leading to death.
"Everybody last night was breathing a sigh of relief that he survived the surgery, but his body went through" too long a period of blood loss, McKay guessed.
"Even a young healthy athlete, his body organs may be so compromised that they just can't continue," she said.
Dr. Fahim Habib, a trauma surgeon at Jackson Memorial where Taylor died, said massive blood loss sets into a motion a series of devastating events.
Blood pressure falls dangerously low, the body tries mightily to get blood to vital organs, and then the body's temperature drops below normal, said Habib, speaking generally and with no knowledge of Taylor's specific injuries.
"When you get these three together, it's called the triad of death. Once that happens, it suggests that the physiologic injury is so severe that the body does not have the ability to overcome" it, Habib said.
So, according to that doctor, a ruptured femoral artery means that you essentially lose all your blood in 5 minutes. Oswald had a ruptured aorta, which is bigger than the femoral artery. He also had a ruptured vena cava, which is the largest vein in the body. He also had a ruptured superior mesenteric artery, which is large. And he also had copious bleeding from his right kidney, which is very vascular. He was supposedly shot at 11:21, and he didn't get to the hospital until 11:30. That's 9 minutes. And the first thing done to save him was give him a blood transfusion, but who knows when the blood started flowing into him? 11:35? I'm just guessing, but that would make it 14 minutes. Oswald could not have survived that long. He was NOT shot in that garage. He was shot after that.