The Christmas season kicked off Tuesday at UT Health Tyler with the hospital’s 31st annual Christmas tree lighting event.
The evening started with caroling by Moore Middle School’s sixth grade choir. Cookies and hot cocoa were served.
During the event, Santa and two of his reindeer made an appearance. Crowds lined up to take photos with Santa in his sleigh, and to pet the reindeer, Baby Blitzen and Prancer.
Every year, a UT Health patient serves as tree lighting ambassador. Shawn Gonter did the honors this year. Gonter had been a trauma patient at UT Health Tyler after a motorcycle accident nearly two years ago.
Gonter was riding and a truck pulled out in front of him. “I was able to get around the truck, but I wasn’t able to get around the trailer that it was pulling. So, the next thing I knew I woke up in the middle of the road; I had lost my leg and was bleeding out.
“EMS pulled up, put a tourniquet on me, put me in the back of the ambulance, and got me here to the hospital,” he said. “Pretty much saved my life.”
Now Gonter, who lost a leg in the accident, works for UT Health as a physician’s assistant. He says the reason he is alive today was because of a police officer, Josh Darty, who applied the tourniquet to his leg.
“In fact, because of that, I realized how important tourniquets were, so I started a foundation in his name, and we buy about 100 tourniquets for the various police departments throughout the year, just depending on which ones need it, and they go through a little course where they learn how to use them.”
Trauma surgeon Jason Murry cared for Gonter at the hospital. He was excited to see the long-term results of the work he does in the emergency room, and to see Gonter stand before the crowd and lead them in a countdown to light up the Christmas tree.
“It’s just to ring in the Christmas spirit and to get everyone in the mood,” Murry said. “It’s something for the whole community to enjoy.”
Murry notes that although Christmas is a joyous time of the year, accidents can still happen.
“We don’t have to see you over the holidays,” Murry said, “but we’re here, 24 hours a day as a Level 1 trauma center and can cover just about every trauma that could occur in East Texas.”