Living Miracles: Survivors of Gunshots to the Head


"I've never seen somebody do so well from such a massive injury," Chiocca said, adding that he has more often seen them survive "in a chronic vegetative state."

Asked what dreams she still hopes to fulfill, Barezinsky, who describes herself as "very content," didn't hesitate: " I've always wanted to be a mother and I still plan to do that one day. Not anytime soon, but one day."

Patrick Ireland

Patrick Ireland, now 29, was an avid basketball and baseball player and competitive waterskier when he was shot twice in the head and once in the foot during the April 19, 1999, Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo. He's probably best known as the 17-year-old Columbine student who, despite being partially paralyzed, summoned enough adrenaline to crawl to a window and be pulled to safety, as television news cameras recorded his rescue.

During the first week after he was hospitalized and sedated, "there were continually questions about whether I would survive or not," he recalled in an interview this week.

Once he made it through the initial hospitalization, he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver for rehabilitation. When his mother asked if he was ready and prepared for the hard work of rehab that lay ahead, he had no idea what kind of grueling regimens he would undergo.

"I'm thinking a lot of hard work, like 6 a.m. basketball practices where you run three hours," he said. "Yeah, sure."

More than 11 years since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who were neither Ireland's friends nor acquaintances, turned their high school library and cafeteria into killing fields before committing suicide, Ireland is a happy, handsome, humble man married to his college sweetheart, Kacie, with a new baby girl named Kennedy Quinn Ireland, a successful business career and a better-than-before game of golf.

In the interim, he has overcome memory loss, and the frustrating inability to articulate words he could hear in his head. He had to re-learn how to read and write.

"You're 17 years old and you've gone through years of schooling and you know in your mind how to do this," he said, "but you can't make the connections to execute on it."

He had to re-learn how to walk and water ski, which he's now doing only recreationally. He harnessed a powerhouse of inner will to keep up his grades, graduate with his class -- as a valedictorian -- and then attend Colorado State, which was just close enough to home that friends and family could provide extra encouragement when he needed it, although his fraternity brothers stepped in as trusted surrogates.

He graduated magna cum laude, then interned at Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, where he's now a managing director.

He wears a brace to support his right leg (which also allows him to feel more stable when he's spending summers "hanging out" in flip-flops) and has some residual deficits, but those are generally limited to problems with fine-motor skills on his right side.

"I don't think there's anything that's extremely apparent if you don't know me, although there's probably times where I might be searching for a word, or trying to remember the right thing I want to say," he said. "But I don't think that's too much different than somebody else who feels as though they have bad short-term memory or something like that."

He can't recall becoming depressed, although he worked through his share of anger and frustration, while asking himself, "Why did this happen to me?"

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