During the June 15 performance of the CNFR in Casper, bull rider Bradie Gray, an Australian native competing for Odessa College in Texas, left the bucking chutes on Levi the Boss. Seconds later the rear hooves of the beast would crush Bradie’s chest.
Dr. Brock Anderson was on call that night. Anderson, a Casper native, is a general and trauma surgeon at Wyoming Medical Center. He rushed to the WMC’s ER with a “code red” trauma alert for what would turn out to be a marathon of a night.
Article continues below...
Gray had a severe crush injury, something Anderson would compare to an injury on a drill rig. “The hoof essentially almost entered his chest”, said Anderson. “He was basically dead for a little while.”
With a full ER staff and doctor on hand, Anderson and his team went to work by immediately attempting to insert chest tubes to inflate Gray’s collapsed lungs. It was then when Gray lost all of his weak pulse.
Anderson had no option but to open Gray’s chest in the ER, something he’d prefer to do in the more controlled and completely sterile operating room. “I was suspicious that he might’ve had a ruptured heart,” said Anderson. “His heart was OK but it was bruised.”
“He had some pretty severe lung injuries on the left side,” continued Anderson, “but the worst actually turned out to be on the right.”
The bull had shattered Gray’s ribs, which then poked multiple holes in his right lung. Gray also had a torn pulmonary vein, which takes oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart. He lost 1.5 liters of blood. About a third of his blood volume was pooled in his chest.
The athletic bull rider’s heart never stopped beating, according to Anderson, but the massive internal bleeding made blood circulation impossible. Anderson pinched Gray’s aorta with his finger to let some blood pressure build in the brain and arms. With Gray’s pulse back, the team moved to the OR. Half of his middle lobe on the right lung was shredded and had to be removed. His pulmonary vein was repaired.
The injury and surgeries pushed Gray’s body to the limit. He had developed coagulopathy, an excessive bleeding disorder. “By the end of the surgeries he was bleeding out of everything,” said Anderson. “His nose, gums, skin, all that stuff was starting to ooze so we knew we were at the end of what we could do, so we took him over to the ICU.” Anderson anticipated more surgeries, so Gray’s incisions were left open and sealed with tape and suction.
“We got him through surgery, but speaking from experience I wasn’t real sure we were going to get him through it,” said Anderson. “The survival rate from all of the studies is about 2 percent,” he said.
Gray’s parents Mick and Sharon had traveled from their home in Australia to watch their son compete in the CNFR. They saw the accident and waited at the hospital for news. Though Anderson saved their son, he had to let them know they’d have a long and uncertain wait again. “It’s hard to go from being very intense to trying to be on the same level and be with this family when you’re telling them pretty tough news,” said Anderson.
In the ICU, Gray was continuously monitored by staff and given the latest drugs to stabilize him and reverse the blood disorder. Twelve hours later, Anderson and his team took Gray back to the OR. Their work had paid off. “We closed everything up, and that was all he needed.”
“The fact that he’s young, physically fit, obviously tough, all of those things helped us get him through,” said Anderson. Anderson also gives credit to the protective vest bull riders now routinely wear. “That jacket saved his life,” said Anderson.
Gray continued to recuperate at WMC for almost three weeks. He stayed on a ventilator as the holes in his lungs healed. He left the ICU after two weeks, walking himself to the surgical unit for further recovery. On Wednesday, July 5, Gray held a press conference after being discharged. The next day Gray and his family had one last meeting with Dr. Anderson before leaving Casper for the drive back to Odessa, Texas, where Gray’s based.
Anderson spent eight years at a Level I trauma center in Sacramento, Calif., where acute trauma cases were more common. During his six years in Casper, Anderson has gone right into life saving surgery like Gray’s case only four or five times in the ER. In Sacramento, a big city with more car wrecks and knife and gun violence, the cases were far more frequent.
Anderson credits a skilled medical staff to Gray’s survival, from the EMT who first treated him at the Events Center to the ER staff at WMC. “This whole thing was a team effort the whole time,” said Anderson. “Without everybody working that hard it wouldn’t have happened.”