'I wasn't ready to die' - Shot nurse who stood on victims of Las Vegas massacre as she fled
Used survival instinct to find a way out
A NURSE who was shot during the Las Vegas Strip massacre has said she can hardly believe she is still alive – after taking a bullet through the stomach and having her leg ripped apart by shrapnel.
Speaking from her hospital bed, Natalie Vanderstay (43) described scenes of carnage as she fled the slaughter despite sustaining terrible injuries herself. She recalls being trampled and shot before summoning a survival instinct to find a way out.
Ms Vanderstay stepped on people to save herself – something she said might haunt her forever.
She saw corpses and people dying as she fled for her life.
“I said: ‘OK, I can’t stay here. I’m going to bleed out.’ It hurt so bad,” a tearful Ms Vanderstay said from her bed at University Medical Centre.
“But I knew I didn’t want to die. I wasn’t ready to die.”
The staggering count of people injured means their recoveries are likely to be as var ied as the victims themselves. Some injuries are as simple as broken bones, while others are gunshot wounds involving multiple operations and potential transplants.
All come with the added emotional scars of enduring the deadliest shooting in modern American history, with 58 killed by Stephen Paddock.
Ms Vanderstay was one of more than 500 people injured on Sunday night.
At least 130 remain in hospital, with 48 listed as being in a critical condition.
At Sunrise Hospital and Medical Centre alone, the count of those treated included 120 people who were struck by gunfire, a glimpse of the amount of ammunition unleashed in the attack.
Rehabilitation for the most seriously hurt victims will take far longer than many may realise.
“Years,” said Dr Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Centre in Baltimore, one of the nation’s largest trauma centres.
“It’s not days or weeks.”
For Ms Vanderstay, there are physical wounds that she as a nurse knows will take many weeks or longer to heal. She underwent surgery to have her colon and small intestine resectioned, meaning portions were removed.
Then there are the memories of how it happened and how a night out with friends at a concert turned into a siege.
“People were screaming. And the screams got louder and louder,” she said.
“I felt this force in my stomach and I knew that I had gotten shot.”
When the gunfire ripped into her, “it felt like a huge baseball, just the force of it going through my stomach”.
She could see that her leg had been “fileted open”, she said, and she recalled taking off her flannel shirt to tightly wrap it.
As Ms Vanderstay spoke, her words became clipped and chaotic, echoing the frenzy of that night.
Her voice quivered as she thought of the people she couldn’t help.
“There were people that were dead. There was a guy, his eye was blown out, and I couldn’t help him,” she said.
At the site of the attack, people fashioned stretchers out of fence posts and tarpaulin sheets and made tourniquets out of belts. At area hospitals, the scene was similarly grave.
“They were coming in so fast,” said Dr Jay Coates, a trauma surgeon at University Medical Centre of Southern Nevada, who operated on three people with gunshot wounds.
“We were just trying to keep people from dying.”
To get out alive, Ms Vanderstay willed herself to jump over a fence. She then hunkered down with a group of strangers, waiting for the seemingly endless gunfire to stop. Once bullets stopped raining down from overhead, Ms Vanderstay spotted a cab with three people already inside.
She told them she had been shot and needed to get to a hospital. The strangers took her in and put pressure on her stomach wound, and the quick-thinking cabbie knew not to take her to the nearest hospital but to University Medical Centre, the only level-one trauma centre in the state.
“If it wasn’t for that cab driver, I wouldn’t be here,” she said, breaking down.
For those wounded by bullets, their prognoses depend heavily on where exactly they were struck. “It really is a game of millimetres and centimetres,” said Dr Jack Sava, trauma director at MedStar Washington Hospital Centre in Washington, DC.
Ms Vanderstay said she woke up feeling immense gratitude for all the strangers and good Samaritans who helped her stay alive and for all the nurses and doctors who saved her life.
“I just remember waking up and my friends were there saying, ‘You made it. You’re OK’,” she said.
“The next step is healing. The road to recovery is going to be tough, mentally and physically.”