Living Miracles: Survivors of Gunshots to the Head


Despite the positive development, neurologists said her brain was beginning to swell and insisted she had sustained too much damage to survive.

Her family had a different view: The doctors didn't know Barezinsky, who had spent four tough years in a corrective back brace because of scoliosis, and had hundreds of concerned friends gathered in a hospital waiting room. They fought for surgery to relieve some of the pressure building in her brain from the swelling, although the bullet would be left where it was.

"We told the doctor, you do what you can to save Rachel's life and we'll take care of the rest, whatever comes about," her father, Greg Barezinsky, 50, of Worthington, said in an interview Tuesday.

Rachel Barezinsky, then an incoming senior, had been shot twice by a resident of a local "haunted house" near a cemetery. The girls had driven by earlier in the summer and were going back for another look. One of the hollow-point bullets entered on the right side of Barezinsky's head, tearing through four lobes that control movement, sensation, memory, emotion and impulse control, before coming to rest on the left side of her brain; the other bullet hit her shoulder.

Once she emerged from the surgery, "they told us the surgery went well and Rachel was going to live," her father said. "At that time, we didn't know what neurological deficits she was going to have," which is what families such Giffords' often hear.

Barezinsky was paralyzed on her left side, with no feeling in her arm or leg. She was intermittently confused. A ventilator helped breathe for her but, within a few days, she was scrawling short notes that let friends and family know that behind the tangle of tubes, wires and bandages, the essence of Barezinsky remained intact.

After three weeks in the ICU, she moved to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus for 10 weeks of rehab. The shooting left her with cognitive complications; she'd made up stories to fill the gaps in her memory.

In 2009, she suffered a grand mal seizure that makes her epileptic by definition, although she has never had another episode. She still doesn't remember the shooting (for which she's thankful), the three or four months that preceded it and the two years that followed. She doesn't remember her boyfriend of the time, although she has been told he came by earlier in her recuperation.

"The most frustrating part is not always being able to remember," she said in an interview. "I have gone through countless speech therapy sessions which focus on teaching me memory strategies. I have definitely learned how to compensate for lack of memory."

Now 21, Barezinsky continues occupational and physical therapy to improve her memory, fine motor skills and reduce fatigue and weakness. Through sheer grit, she has made strides unthinkable that summer night in 2006.

She uses an iPad to stay organized and jot down memories. Read her upbeat website, and you learn she has completed her high school education, earned a certificate in pre-school teaching and has worked in a dentist's office since August. She remains determined to get the college education that the shooting put out of immediate reach.

With her youth, formidable will and supportive family and friends, there's no reason she can't get back to "99.5 percent of where she was," said Chiocca, the Ohio State neurosurgeon who rebuilt her skull months after a colleague removed it to prevent further damage from brain-swelling.

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