Dr. Sheldon Teperman helps victims of major trauma like gun shot wounds survive.
Now he is on a mission to push for tougher gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shootings that left 26 dead last December.
The 52-year-old Riverdale native became a doctor at Jacobi’s Level 1 Trauma Center when he was just 22 years old, just as the crack epidemic of the mid-80s and it’s gun violence soared.
“If you were a trauma surgeon in the Bronx, you got to be an expert in penetrating trauma, particularly gun shot wounds,” he said.
“I was too young when I graduated medical school, and I think a lot of this was like a hydrant hitting me,” he said. “It was all I could do to get the medicine right and the horror of it all was just was sort of blasting past me, because my job was basically putting my finger in the dyke of all this blood.”
Several incidents broke through the wall that Teperman and other doctors like him put up during their daily routines at busy, urban trauma centers.
One was a shot teenager Teperman lost to cardiac arrest after being saved from wounds.
Another was a gang execution where the victim, shot in the head, lived, but had part of her face blown off.
A third was 92-year-old Sadie Mitchell, shot in her Williamsbridge home by a stray bullet from a street fight outside in 2009. Teperman, who had met Mitchell previously, said he was literally holding her heart when she died.
It all led Teperman to become an activist in the war against gun violence, fighting for tougher gun regulation.
“I used to say that I am the ‘patron saint of lost causes,’ because I have been tilting at this windmill for 13 years,” he said, “and it was literally nothing up until Newtown.” Teperman, a board member at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, is now lobbying to get Congress to close a loophole that allows people to buy firearms at gun shows without a background check.
He and his staff were recently inundated with protest calls from gun owners and even a National Rifle Association official, he said – “People like to remind me that I piss off people who own guns.”
He said the resistance in the fight to ban assault weapons is “all about the money made by the civilian gun industry, about $12 billion a year.”
“This is all and only about money. It always has been,” he said. “This is not about the second amendment, and it never has been.”
Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3393