It’s not just the murders: Gunshot wounds taking enormous toll on survivors

Last week, Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club football alum Ezekiel Elliott, now star running back for the Dallas Cowboys, offered to pay funeral expenses for Metro East shooting victim Jaylon McKenzie.

Jaylon, 14, a football phenom who had been featured in Sports Illustrated magazine, was killed by a stray bullet while attending a prom party in Venice, Ill., just two weekends ago.  

His friend, a 15-year-old girl, was critically injured but survived.

While shootings that result in death naturally draw significantly more attention, survivors such as Jaylon’s friend, and the 19 shooting victims in St. Louis over the same weekend, often fall under the radar.

Granted, the lack of updates commonly rests on the fact that hospitals routinely withhold information regarding shooting victims; but, still, the interest just isn’t the same.

More than twice as many gunshot victims survive as are fatally wounded.  Case in point: Of the 19 shot during the St. Louis shooting spree the weekend of Jaylon’s death, only two died.

Across the United States from 2001 until 2013, there were 921,613 nonfatal firearm injuries (NFI) compared with 406,496 fatal firearm injuries (FFI), according to a 2017 study by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

More often than not, as the study confirms, survivors face not only immediate but long-term challenges and unfavorable outcomes.

The majority of them require medical attention, and 80 percent of those may require hospitalization. And despite aggressive resuscitation and available treatment, many have poor quality of life for the rest of their days.

The report went on to conclude that a substantial proportion of those wounded eventually die of health consequences directly related to having been shot.

“It messed up my mental,” said 22-year-old shooting victim Daje Shelton, who led a march against violence Saturday in north St. Louis. “I reminisce about it all the time, especially when I see girls dying on TV [news].”

Depression is also an end result, especially for those with bullets that remain lodged inside, according to Barnes-Jewish Trauma Surgeon Dr. Laurie Punch, associate professor at Washington University.

“Not all bullets go as deep as others, physically,” Punch said.  “Some people can get wound care and heal in four to six weeks, but some have injuries that last a lifetime. There can be paralysis, intestinal issues and chronic pain.” 

Punch noted that bullets create more of an injury than just the skin, bones, organs and muscles that they cut through, adding that, “It takes more than a stitch to heal a wound because bullets are so often powered by hate.”

In that vein, she said, recovery requires that hate be replaced with deep value and love.

“That’s not something that I do in the hospital by myself.  It takes family and community to help someone truly heal,” she said.

Punch noted that family and community also suffer when someone is shot, fatally or otherwise, and require healing.

“Violence occurs when people are in desperate need,” she said. “Instead of judging from the comfort of a couch, we all need to work to see the value in each other. People don’t need more hate. They need job opportunities, education, social supports, health care and public safety.”

And more lives can be saved and outcomes can be better if more people in high-risk communities would learn first aid for gunshot victims.  Simply stopping the bleeding can save a life, Punch said. It’s an important issue to Punch, who is also co-director of Stop the Bleed STL, which teaches first aid for trauma cases, similar to what is taught in the military. 

As recently as last week, Punch said, “someone bled to death and they didn’t have to if someone knew how to help.”

Her “T” community health education center at 5874 Delmar Blvd. will offer training from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., Thursday, May 23. More information can be found by visiting www.STBSTL.com

Bill Beene

Author: Bill Beene

Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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