Kevin Ware, who suffered a compound fracture injury, was up on crutches Monday at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Courtesy Kenneth Klein, University of Louisville
Indystar.com -- Ralph Reiff and his crew got the call when Louisville players sunk to the court Sunday afternoon, the sight of their teammate's bone jutting six inches from his leg too much to grasp.
A moment later, Reiff, director of sports medicine at St. Vincent Hospital, hovered above Kevin Ware as he lay helpless on the Lucas Oil Stadium floor with a compound fracture of his right leg. Reiff quickly asked the Cardinals' bench for towels, hoping to shield the gruesome injury from prying eyes and cameras.
Reiff's team helped place Ware's mangled leg in a splint and lifted him on a gurney. About 10 minutes later, Ware was on his way to Methodist Hospital.
An hour after Louisville clinched a trip to the Final Four, Ware underwent successful surgery. By Monday morning, he was moving around on crutches, already planning a trip to his hometown of Atlanta this weekend to watch his teammates chase a national title.
Credit Reiff's crew - four physicians, eight athletic trainers - with an assist.
"What you saw (Sunday) was everything we'd rehearsed, every single day, leading up to the event," said Reiff, who often runs the emergency medical crew at major sports events in Indianapolis. "You have a switch, and you do what you need to do."
The "switch" for Reiff went on when Louisville head trainer Fred Hina raised his hand after rushing to Ware's side.
"These are things that are put into place and are well thought through," said Jeanne Boyd, managing director of the NCAA's Division I men's basketball championship.
Reiff's crew - all volunteers, including Reiff - had run through possible scenarios each day they'd been on site at Lucas Oil Stadium. The team was responsible only for incidents on the floor. Separate medical personnel was present for fans.
"It was probably better this happened on Sunday rather than Thursday because our whole team had spent four days together," said Reiff, a veteran of three Final Fours in Indianapolis and nearly a dozen notable sports events, including the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
While Ware grimaced in pain, it was quickly determined Hina would be the point man. He ordered the crew to splint Ware's leg in an effort to stabilize the fracture. Then, they moved him onto a hard backboard and lifted him onto a stretcher. Soon, he was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. Ware's sister - his only family member in attendance - and girlfriend went to the hospital.
John Dedman, vice president of the Indiana Sports Corp., the organization that hires Reiff's team, had a front row seat for those hectic 10 minutes.
"What Ralph and his crew did was make a really bad situation as good as it could possibly be," Dedman said. "There was no personal reaction to how bad the injury was ... just a group of people really focused on their job. It was calming to know he was in charge."
IU Health Methodist Hospital, where Ware was taken, is "the ultimate backstop," said Dr. Larry Reed, director for trauma services.
"We don't transfer patients out to other facilities because we have everything we need," Reed said.
IU Health has ample experience handling the medical side of large sports events. Each May, the hospital system sets up an auxiliary facility at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The hospital treats not only racecar drivers but fans, Reed said. If anything serious happens, the patient is resuscitated and stabilized - and then transported to the hospital, if necessary by helicopter.
"A surgeon really needs an operating room to do everything that he needs to do," Reed said.