Kellie Abbott, founder of the non-profit organization Blue Forever, is pictured with Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley as she donates belt trauma kits to the department. Each kit contains emergency medical supplies such as QuickClot Combat Gauze, SWAT-T tourniquets, a face shield and latex gloves. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department is now one of the more than 66 law enforcement agencies that have received life-saving Belt Trauma Kits from the non-profit organization, Blue Forever.

Blue Forever was the brainchild of Kellie Abbott, who founded the organization as her high school senior project following the tragic death of her friend Sergeant Tim Prunty with the Shreveport Police Department in 2010.

“This guy was essentially just trying to kill a police officer and he saw Tim’s car outside while he was talking with this girl,” Abbott said. “He shot at Tim, and (Tim) shielded the girl and pushed her out of the way … he was shot many times, but one of them was in the femoral artery and he bled out.”

Abbott, a Louisiana native and Mississippi State graduate, who is currently in her second year of pharmacy school at East Tennessee State University, said she will be forever impacted by the tragic loss of Sergeant Prunty. With both of her parents having dedicated careers to law enforcement, Abbott saw a need for medical resources officers could carry with them to stop profuse bleeding in the event of an emergency.

“It was really impactful and something I will forever carry with me,” Abbott said about Prunty’s death. 

Even though the first officer on the scene arrived shortly after Prunty was shot, Abbott said the only resource they had to use in an attempt to stop Prunty’s bleeding were ripped up shirts.

“The reason it was such a big deal is he bled out and that is one of the most preventable deaths in general,” she said.

After the loss of Prunty, Abbott saw a news bit about QuikClot Combat Gauze, a hemostatic gauze made by Z-Medica that can be used to control serious bleeding until emergency medical services or another officer can arrive at the scene of an incident. After hearing about the QuikClot Combat Gauze, Abbott was inspired to create the Belt Trauma Kits, which along with the gauze contain a SWAT-T tourniquet, a face shield and a pair of latex gloves.

Close to 2,800 kits have been donated in 14 states and Abbott estimates that they have been utilized at least 30 times thus far. One life was saved with the QuikClot Combat Gauze at the Shreveport Police Department in 2015 after a teenage boy was shot by a high powered rifle.

“He was shot in the buttocks area so a tourniquet couldn’t be used and the QuikClot Gauze was able to be used,” Abbott said. “Emergency Medical Services was unable to get into the scene because it was an insecure scene.”

Last week, Abbott stopped by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department to donate 20 of the Belt Trauma Kits. It is estimated that only 50 percent of law enforcement agencies across the United States have access to some sort of tourniquet kit.

“I think this is a great idea and your experience is what sets this in stone. You saw there was a need for this,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said to Abbott. “You’ll be blessed by what you’ve done here … there’s no doubt you can save hundreds of lives with these kits.”

Hensley mentioned that law enforcement are typically the first responders on any emergency scene and a cut to a major artery can be life threatening and make “every second count.” He also pointed out that with the Nolichucky River and the Appalachian Trail in Unicoi County, that the department is frequently conducting search and rescues in situations where the kits can be utilized.

“It will be put to good use and undoubtedly it can make the difference between life and death,” he said. “As a sheriff, I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”

To date, Abbott has raised more than $200,000 for the Blue Forever non-profit through T-shirt sales, donations and various fundraisers.

“It’s crazy how it’s come from essentially nothing. It’s completely grassroots and even a $20 donation is a big thing to us,” she said. “It’s heartwarming for me to be able to have done this and impact so many lives. I’m just trying to make as big of an impact as I can throughout the United States.”

To learn more about Blue Forever or to make a donation, visit blueforever.org, or their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/blueforeverinc/.