It was 5 o’clock in the morning and this 24-hour shift was preoccupied by an already full pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) list. Overnight, we got slammed with more admissions that consisted of a septic patient from the oncology service, one drowning victim, and one rapidly decompensating complex care patient. The end of the shift was near, and I looked forward to going home! However, then came our sickest patient of the night.
The patient was a young teenage girl who had been shot multiple times during a “drive-by” shooting. Unfortunately, she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident left her father dead and the patient in a critical state. Her tibia was shattered. One bullet had compromised the spleen, while a few more had pierced vital structures in the lungs and heart. The patient needed multiple surgeries, was intubated and on a ventilator for a couple of weeks, and remained in the hospital for several months (bouncing back amongst the ICU, Surgery, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation services). Thankfully, this brave fighter did survive.
As horrific as the incident was, it was not even the first gunshot victim of the week that we took care of. The week prior, we had admitted another school-aged patient who was accidentally shot with a hunting rifle. The gun was found by his younger cousin, who thought it was a toy. Soon afterwards, it went off and caused absolute havoc. There were dozens of pellets disseminated throughout the child’s chest and abdomen, injuring major organs like the heart and liver. After a long hospital course, this little, big fighter also survived!
Prior to residency, I never realized how many children I would meet and take care of that were victims of gun violence. I never realized how many times the doctors and nurses would have to talk to homicide detectives that were investigating deaths that were a direct result of gun violence. I never realized how many times the team would have to tell yet another parent that their child was shot and is now in critical condition. Many of these shooting cases are accidental. Some are intentional. Regardless of what the motive or reason behind the incident is, one thing remains the same: someone got hold of a gun and used that gun to seriously hurt a child.
I am not trying to take a political side. I’ll leave that to the politicians. However, I will take a personal and professional stance. As a pediatrician, an aunt, and a human being, I am sick and tired of hearing about yet another child getting injured or killed after a gun-related incidence. It’s come to the point where shootings at elementary schools, movie theaters, colleges, clubs, and the workplace are becoming “just another story” in the news. It’s time to prevent another Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Pulse shooting from occurring. Isn’t it time we ask ourselves what we can do to prevent more gun violence? How can we encourage gun owners to store these weapons in a safe location where kids cannot break in? What can we do to make sure a gun does not get into the hands of the wrong person? What can we do to not have another child become a victim of a crime that should have been prevented? I think we owe it to our little, big fighters to have these issues addressed before more become victims!
Here are some quick facts on this topic from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital:
- Approx. 1,500 children < 18 years of age die from shootings every year.
- More American have guns in the home than dogs.
- 1 in 3 families with children have at least one gun in the house. There are more than 22 million children living in homes with guns.
- Most of the victims of unintentional shootings are boys. They are usually shot by a friend or relative, especially a brother.
- Half of all unintentional shooting deaths among children occur at home, and almost half occur in the home of a friend or relative.
To find out more about this topic, please click on the American Academy of Pediatrics link.