CHICAGO (WLS) --Doctors, staff and former patients gathered on Friday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cook County Trauma Unit at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, the first comprehensive trauma unit in the U.S.
What makes a trauma unit different than an emergency room is the same doctors and nurses treat the most critically wounded patients from the moment they arrive until they are discharged.
With its highly skilled staff, Cook County's trauma unit has been a model for decades.
The trauma unit began in a small dining room of the old hospital in 1966. It was the first of its kind in the nation. Back then, the unit treated 1000 patients a year. Today the unit treats five times as many patients.
"It used to be trauma was only busy on the night shift, not anymore. We're busy on the day shift, non-stop," said Christina Federighi, a trauma unit nurse.
Federighi has been a trauma nurse at Cook County for 24 years, experiencing the old and new hospitals.
Longevity is part of the culture and success at the hospital.
"We don't hire people that we don't think are in it for the long run. For the most part, people stay here for 20 to 30 years," said Dr. Faran Bokhari, who is the chair of the Cook County trauma unit.
Leading a team of surgeons and nurses, Dr. Bokhari says while cutting edge technology and research has always made the trauma unit one of the best in the nation, he says what sets the hospital apart is the character and commitment of the staff.
Kamilah Givens returns to Stroger Hospital often to thank her doctors and nurses.
Five years ago, Givens was shot 10 times in the stomach.
"We always say she is the patient who really shouldn't be here. She reached 32 degrees on the operating table. That is essentially 100 percent mortality," said Dr. Andrew Dennis of the Cook County trauma unit.
"I underwent 17 surgeries. It was a lot, and when I woke up and saw Dr. Dennis' face, it was like I saw an angel," said Givens.
Chicago Police Commander Ed Kulbida feels the same way. It's been almost two years since he was shot in the head and the shoulder. The veteran cop still gets emotional when talking about his experience at Stroger Hospital.
"Dr. Dennis told me and my wife that I was the luckiest man on earth. He said if either bullet hit me in a centimeter in each direction, I probably wouldn't be standing here today," said Kulbida.
Cook County's trauma unit is so well respected, it is one of two in the nation chosen by the Department of Defense to train military personnel for war.
County doctors and nurses say they feel they are dealing with their own war here in Chicago. They treat an average of 45 to 50 trauma patients a day. They say two-thirds of those patients are gunshot victims.
The hospital says they have had 800 firearm injuries this year alone, ahead of 2015 and 2014.