For Andy Aurich, It Was Forever Until Dawn
BY JAY GREENBERG
When the phone rings at 2 a.m. it never is good news. Even the increasingly sick age in which we live was of no preparation for Andy Aurich ’06 last Monday morning as he struggled through the cobwebs of a deep sleep for comprehension of what his older brother Ben was saying.
“He said there had been a terrorist attack in Las Vegas and that Phil had been shot and was going into surgery,” said Aurich, Princeton’s associate head coach and offensive line coach. “That was all he knew.”
“I looked on my phone and didn’t see anything about the shooting at first. And then everything about it started popping up.
“Can’t tell you all the things that went through my mind. It was three hours until Ben called back and said Phil was out of surgery.
“The longest three hours of my life.”
Like at least 488 others hit during Stephen Paddock’s gun rampage from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Phil Aurich survived. He did not become one of the 58 who perished thanks to the urgent assistance of an off-duty nurse and a policeman racing the bleeding victim to the experienced surgeons at the Level One trauma unit of the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada.
Most fortunate of all, Aurich may owe his life to the compression shirt he had worn last Sunday night, the final night of the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
As Phil and his girlfriend, Aly, raced 200 yards for the closest cover in a strip mall, he told her it felt like he had been hit in the back, but Aly saw no blood so they continued to run for their lives. “I don’t know why he was wearing that shirt,” said Andy, but at the hospital they said the tight fit had served as a tourniquet, buying precious minutes to save him from bleeding out and, likely, dying at the scene.
A nurse, who happened to be in the store where they fled, confirmed Phil’s suspicions, and the speeding policeman enabled Phil to be one of the first victims to reach the hospital.
The bullet, entering his back, had broken a rib; and ruptured his spleen, colon, and diaphragm. A fragment of the bullet also became embedded in one of Phil’s lungs. By chance, the surgeon was the son of one of Phil’s mother’s high school classmates in St. Paul (MN). The surgeon immediately did what was necessary to stabilize and sedate him, then turned to other victims in dire need of attention, before returning to Phil on Monday to complete his procedure.
Phil lost his entire spleen and part of his colon. The fragments remain, but he is out of danger and expected to make a full recovery.
Andy wasn’t reassured of this however, when, sleepless and dazed, he came to work on Monday morning. “I was obviously relieved to know the initial surgery was a success but I was still not sure how bad it was,” he said. “As Monday continued and the death toll was rising, I said ‘I can’t just sit here, I have to go.’
Surace told his assistant to leave, of course. Aurich caught a 4:30 pm flight to Las Vegas to join his family, which had flown from Minnesota.
“My parents didn’t say, ‘You should get out there, but when I did, they said they were happy I came,” said Aurich. “My brother was still pretty much out of it; he didn’t remember talking to me, but taking turns being in the room helped everybody.”
Surace, the old Princeton center and a line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, ran Aurich’s drills on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was back for the Thursday practice, more relieved than he was angry or even perplexed by the senselessness of the mass shooting that produced the most deaths in American history.
“We are all just happy Phil is getting better.” The family, spends their time feeling that, not anger. Mostly, they talk about being overwhelmed by the support he has gotten from people all over the place.
“There are a lot of people praying for him. That’s what my Mom and Dad have taken out of this. They have been rock solid, which was good to see when I got there.”
Phil’s cell phone has been confiscated by the persons in charge of the all-out effort to get him better. A chest tube is still in, but already his caregivers have him sitting in a chair, and according to Aurich’s father Mike, Phil is already talking about football and getting back to his normal self.
So Andy has yet to talk to Phil or his girlfriend about the horror around them as they ran for their lives, if that conversation ever takes place at all. Even with the Christian faith of the family, it is hard to imagine Phil living through such trauma without feeling its effects long after the chest tube comes out and he goes home.
“But he is definitely the type of guy who will attack this thing,” said Andy. “And if there is any point where it gets like, ‘Oh, this is so hard,’ he has two great reminders in his two children to help him push through any obstacles.”
How does one victimized by the irrational, rationalize it? Phil Aurich, 38-year-old father of two, branch manager for a mortgage company in Las Vegas and country music lover, is supremely lucky to be alive, of course. But he also was terribly unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It was a terrible tragedy for many people,” said Andy, “ but I know he will turn his situation into a positive. I know that will be his mindset.”