Former Charlotte football standout reflects on helping save lives as surgeon after Pulse shooting

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

Alvaro Bada — after graduation from Florida State University in this photo — was also a graduated from Charlotte High School in 2004.

Alvaro Bada was fast asleep in his Orlando-area townhouse on June 12 of last year.

It was a quiet morning in College Park, where the 2004 Charlotte High School graduate was resting before his 24-hour shift at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Bada’s shift was set to begin at 6 a.m., but he was awakened earlier than expected when his phone continually buzzed with text messages from co-workers.

“It looks like there’s a mass shooting,” Bada roughly recalls the first text message reading. “We’re probably going to have a lot of casualties. Anyone who gets this, please come in.”

As responses to the distress text came rolling in, a groggy Bada didn’t immediately realize the severity of what was unfolding about 15 minutes from his home.

Around 2 a.m. a gunman terrorized Pulse nightclub in the heart of downtown Orlando, leaving 49 people dead and injuring another 53. It would end up being the worst mass shooting in United States history.

Most of the victims were taken to the hospital where Bada worked, located just a couple blocks away from the nightclub.

“I didn’t really notice (the texts at first) because I was just waking up,” Bada said. “Sometimes they have mass casualty drills, and I thought maybe it wasn’t a big deal, then other people started texting.”

Bada got dressed in his green scrubs, slipped on his black clogs and rushed to the hospital.

The 31-year-old had been used to a busy emergency room at ORMC, but nothing quite like the chaos of June 12, 2016.

He needed to use his experiences from Florida State University medical school and five (now six) years of being a resident as he arrived on scene at the hospital a couple hours into the life-saving mission his co-workers had already begun.

“You have to compartmentalize because there’s only so many things you can do at once,” Bada said. “I think after being here for so long, I don’t want to say we’re used to it, but your training kicks in and until it’s over, once you go home — at least for me — you don’t really even think about it until afterward.”

Bada says he performed surgery on “two or three” patients that morning, and even had to operate on one victim a second time.

But that was just the beginning of the night.

“The biggest thing was once the craziness had calmed down, we now had whatever the number of patients there were with unidentified no-names and all these family members,” Bada remembers. “So we had to go and back track now once we had everyone stabilized, we had to go through the list and try to identify people.

“We ended up having to go back through all these patients and take care of all the injuries we may have missed after all of the life-threatening injuries were taken care of.”

One year later
, Bada reflects on the tragedy almost like it was just another day at the office. Not because he’s been desensitized to the violence he has seen come through the emergency room in Orlando over the last six years, but because it wasn’t even the only national news story he was involved with that weekend.

In what would have been the biggest news in Orlando on most weekends, pop singer Christina Grimmie, best known for being a contestant on the NBC show “The Voice,” was shot and killed while signing autographs after a performance a little over 24 hours before the Pulse shootings.

According to Bada, he was the doctor on call that night and was the one who had to make the tough decision.

“I had pronounced her dead the night before and that was a pretty big thing. It was a pretty bad weekend in general,” Bada said. “They brought her in to the emergency room, once she got to the trauma room, they call us down, and unfortunately she was non-survival. At a certain point you have to say ‘stop doing CPR.’”

On the eve of the anniversary of the Pulse attack, Bada says he will never forget it. But, he said he has never second-guessed his decision to enter the medical field. If anything, the experience reaffirmed the decade-long training he’s endured to get to this point.

Growing up, Bada says he never wanted to be a doctor, even though his father — also Dr. Alvaro Bada — is a surgeon in the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte area.

It wasn’t until his senior year at Charlotte High School he really came to the decision that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I think that’s pretty awesome,” Bada’s mother, Beverly, said. “We never focused on the kids having to go a certain route. We wanted them to find their own thing and do what they wanted to do so they could be happy in the career they chose.”

Although it took Bada time to realize how he wanted to spend his professional life, those around him weren’t surprised by the decision.

“We knew back then he’d be a doctor,” Charlotte football coach Binky Waldrop said. “He’s just an incredible human being. He was a tremendous leader and always smiled. We never heard him complain about anything.”

According to Waldrop, Bada has a knack for stepping in when he’s needed.

It’s not quite on the same level of saving lives, but the 2002 Tarpons might not have won a regional title and made a trip to the state semifinals without Bada, who took over as the go-to rushing threat after filling in for an injured teammate.

“It was high-pressure,” Waldrop said. “(His role) was huge. It’s an important position in our offense. He stepped in and did a great job.”

Bada would go on to rush for 1,015 yards and 16 touchdowns that season, with another 695 yards and eight scores his senior year before being injured himself.

He will soon return to his Charlotte County roots, beginning his post-residency life as a general surgeon alongside his dad at three area hospitals on Aug. 1.

It’s hard to imagine he would come close to facing another scenario like he did a year ago, but Bada knows that weekend has helped prepare him.

“It’s definitely something that anyone involved in won’t forget, but it helps you remember day to day, after all the training, you’re able to do such great things when you have a chance and rise to the occasion,” Bada said. “Even if I go to Port Charlotte and I never see another trauma patient again, at least I know that that part of my training is good enough to take care of people for the rest of my life.”

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