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Orlando Doctors Recall Race To Treat Nightclub Shooting Victims


In Orlando, some of the people who were injured in Sunday's attacks spoke for the first time in public today. They described being trapped in the nightclub with the shooter. Their doctors also spoke. They said treating that many gunshot victims was like a war zone. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Angel Colon is still hospitalized and spoke from his wheelchair at Orlando Regional Medical, the trauma center that handled the deluge of wounded early Sunday morning.


ANGEL COLON: At first I was a bit hesitant, you know, to come up here because it's still fresh to me, this - all this that has happened. But I would love to get my story out so everyone can know.

ELLIOTT: Colon says he was saying goodnights at the Pulse club, hugging friends goodbye, when out of nowhere they heard a loud gunshot.


COLON: We stopped what we were doing and then it just keeps going. That happened and we just grabbed each other, we started running. And unfortunately, I was shot about three times in my leg.

ELLIOTT: He fell to the ground.


COLON: I tried to get back up, but everyone started running everywhere. I got trampled over.

ELLIOTT: He couldn't escape.


COLON: All I could hear was the shotgun, one after another, and people screaming, people yelling for help.

ELLIOTT: He says gunman Omar Mateen was shooting people who were on the floor to make sure they were dead. Then he took aim a second time at Colon.


COLON: And I'm just there, lying down. I'm thinking, I'm next. I'm dead. So I don't know how, but by the glory of God he shoots towards my head but it hits my hand. And then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my hip.

ELLIOTT: Colon played dead until a police officer found him alive and pulled him from the nightclub. He was one of the dozens of shooting victims transported just a few blocks away to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Today, he thanked hospital staff for saving his life. Doctors describe a chaotic scene as they realized the scope of the massacre.


CHADWICK SMITH: The patients just started coming - one came, then another came, then another came.

ELLIOTT: Surgeon Chadwick Smith says the trauma bay quickly filled beyond capacity as doctors treated serious and numerous gunshot wounds.


SMITH: Add in people in pain, people worrying about their loved ones, people not knowing where their loved ones are. And we're trying to help them all.

ELLIOTT: There were about 20 patients in the first wave, then another 20 after police killed the shooter and a SWAT team rescued those who had been held hostage. Dr. Kathryn Bondani says it was daunting to keep up with the multitude of victims.


KATHRYN BONDANI: They were being dropped off in truckloads and in ambulance loads, where our amazing nurses and techs were putting them on stretchers and rolling them into us and telling us that another patient's here, another patient's here, another patient's here.

ELLIOTT: More than two dozen patients remained hospitalized, several in critical condition. Doctors warn of serious long-term effects for some, and say the death toll could still rise. But overall, Dr. Smith says, the hospital's crisis preparedness paid off.


SMITH: It was singularly the worst day of my career and the best day of my career.

ELLIOTT: For patient Angel Colon, the love from hospital staff is what stands out. But he still can't understand why anyone would want to do such harm.


COLON: This person had to be heartless - heartless, ruthless. It's - I don't know how you could do something like this. Just seeing all these bodies everywhere and this person is just enjoying doing this, there's no way - I don't know how.

ELLIOTT: Federal investigators are looking into the gunman's motives. The FBI says the American-born Mateen appears to be a home-grown extremist. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orlando.

MCEVERS: And we will hear more from our colleague, Ari Shapiro, who is in Orlando, coming up in the show. You can follow him on Twitter @arishapiro, and you can follow the show @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.