UF Health doctors to be honored for saving sailor's life

Brett Parks nearly died after being shot during robbery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A team of UF Health doctors refused to give up and because of that, a Jacksonville sailor, who risked his own life for a stranger, is alive.  And this weekend, the heroes who saved Brett Parks' life, will be honored.

The story begins in October 2012 when Brett heard a scream for help.  He rushed to save a man who was being robbed on the Southside, but then a bullet dropped him to the ground and everything went black.

Saving Brett's life took a team from UF Health, starting with the Chief of Vascular Surgery, Dr. James Dennis and two other surgeons, residents Eric Robers and Chester Royals.  At one point all three had their hands inside Brett, working furiously to stop the bleeding.

"We just couldn't stop it," explained Roberts. "We couldn't slow it down. We just finally paused and everyone took a pause and looked at each other and said are we making any progress here are we doing the right thing?"

"The reason I consider him to be a miracle case is that we had several spots throughout the procedure where we stopped and held pressure but stopped working looked at each other and talked, should we continue should we stop what should we do next?" said Royals.

"I think we all deep down inside knew that we had to continue to give it every last bit of effort that we could," added Roberts.

And throughout this struggle to save Brett, his wife Susan waited.

"I was very confused and I just couldn't believe any of this was happening to us because this doesn't happen to people like us," she said.

Susan was seven months pregnant with a daughter they were naming Stella.  It took hours and it was hard for doctors to explain to Susan what was going on.

Tearfully, Roberts explained, "I remember just squatting down next to [Susan] trying to hold her hand, knowing that (pause) I'm sorry (pause) that could be my wife in that situation. And telling her, her husband is very sick and in danger of dying but that we're going to do everything to get him through this and she needed to go see him and be with him."

"I knew that they were so invested in Brett and our family," added Susan.

Brett got through that night and the next. He was in a medically induced coma for 20 days, and underwent a dozen operations in all.  One operation returned blood flow to his leg, but it wasn't enough.  Doctors recommended amputating  and Susan had to make the decision to do it.

Brett explained the moment he learned his foot had been amputated.

"I saw my reflection in the window and it really confused me, so I turned to Susie and I said, 'Susie do I have a foot?' And she looked at me and said,'No, no you don't.'  I looked at her and I said, 'Well do you still love me?' And she looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Brett I didn't marry you for your foot.' And I was, 'Ok, I'm ok, I'm good.'"

Good doesn't do his recovery justice.  Great is more like it.  Imagine his emotions when he finally came back home and was reunited with his son.

"I turned and saw him from the garage door and said, 'Hey buddy.' And he just tore to get out from Mimi's grip and he ran towards me and jumps up on me just like we always used to do like no time passed at all and it was such a relief to me," he explained.

And Brett also shared what it was like getting to meet his daughter, Stella.

"I see my little girl,  I hold her and she looks me in the eyes and she looked right through me," Brett said. "I just melted away and I held her close and I told her, Stella, I'm your daddy.  I will always protect you. I will always be there for you and I will always love you, and there's nothing you can do about it.'"

Brett Parks' amazing story and the people who saved him was told in full to an audience of supporters of UF Health and TraumaOne on Saturday night.

The benefit, called A Night For Heroes: Joining Forces to Save Lives, was held at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra and funds raised benefited TraumaOne, UF's Pediatric and Adult Level 1 Trauma Center.

About the Authors:

At WJXT for a quarter of a century, Mary Baer anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news weekdays.