With Christmas less than a week away, East Texas is lit up with sparkling holiday trees. One of those stands at UT Health in Tyler.
For the past 31 years they have chosen a former patient to do the honors of lighting it. This year, they chose Shawn Gonter, who survived a horrific motorcycle crash in 2018.
It’s a terrifying scenario. With severe blood loss, only minutes can mean the difference between life and death.
“I had assessed myself on the scene, I knew that I had a broken back, I knew I had a fractured femur,” said Gonter. “I really didn’t actually realize I’d lost my limb until one of the officers walked up and told one of the officers that was taking care of me, his limb is over in the gutter.”
Gonter is a veteran Special Forces medic for the Army, but currently serves as a physicians assistant at UT health.
On the morning of March 13, 2018, Gonter set out for work on his motorcycle. He was near the intersection of Beckham and Troup Highway in Tyler, when everything he knew before that day changed.
“As I was driving to work a truck pulled out in front of me. It had a huge load on the trailer behind it, so it couldn’t stop,” said Gonter. “I was able to get around the truck, but I couldn’t get around the trailer and it pinned my leg between the trailer and the motorcycle.”
Former Tyler police officer Joshua Darty was one of the first to arrive.
“He was in his full gear, but his right leg was field amputated below the knee,” said Officer Darty.
Luckily, Officer Darty had just gone through a refresher course for what can be done in this type of situation.
“I had a tourniquet on my belt and I just pulled it off, put it on high and tight and I just tightened it down until it was no longer bleeding,” said Officer Darty.
“There’s no question in anybody’s mind that was there on scene that, it was such a traumatic accident, a traumatic amputation, that if the tourniquet had not been there that it would have been, that my chances would have been cut in half or even less,” said Gonter.
The experience left both men on a mission.
Gonter created a foundation that provides tourniquets to first responders.
“Whether it be EMS, whether it be fire department, whether it be police departments, or even in the schools, you know to have access to those, because they are such a limb saving, such a life saving tool to have,” said Gonter.
Officer Darty now works outside of Tyler, but he was honored this year with a life-saving award for his part in Gonter’s survival.
And he carries the memory of that day with him always.
“Typically around my ankle, I keep a tourniquet, just part of my off-duty carry, I guess,” said Officer Darty.
So this year’s UT Health tree lighting was an especially bright spot for a man who not only celebrates holidays— but celebrates his life— every single day.
Gonter’s foundation has supplied tourniquets to the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, and first responders in Arp, Troup, and Whitehouse.
If you would like to find training for how you can help stop the bleed in your area, visit Homeland Security to find a list of classes in your area.