Living Miracles: Survivors of Gunshots to the Head


The CT images indicated Scott was shot at very close range and, as in Gifford's case, in which the trajectory was high and the gunshot wound bypassed critical structures of the brain that govern speech, the trajectory in Scott's shooting was low and also missed brain regions that govern critical functions.

"The trajectory is what makes it survivable," Harkey said.

Had the bullet reached Scott's spine and her spinal cord, however, "it would be an injury like Christopher Reeve, not only paralyzed in his arms and legs, he couldn't even breathe and had to have a portable ventilator," Harkey said of the late actor who became a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse.

The neurosurgeon said the regions damaged in Scott's shooting were near four major blood vessels supplying the brain, including the carotid arteries that feed the hemispheres, and the vertebral arteries that supply blood to the brain stem and cerebellum. Injuries to those could have caused a massive hemorrhage or major stroke.

"From a neurological standpoint, it could have caused a significant stroke with any outcome from death to significant paralysis," he said.

He observed that Scott also suffered blockage to her sigmoid sinus, the major structure that drains blood from the brain; such a blockage "can be life-threatening."

For her part, Scott has managed to laugh a bit at what befell her on an otherwise ordinary winter evening. When she looks at a picture of herself today, with her bracing blue eyes and blond hair, she says the face she sees "looks younger" than the face before the shooting.

"The nurses were laughing at me, saying it's like having Botox done," she said.

She attributes the lack of wrinkles on the left side of her face to the months when some of her facial muscles were paralyzed.

She has recovered almost completely, except for a small area above her right ear that remains numb. She cannot play tennis or jog as vigorously as she once did, and at the end of each work day, she has to lie down for about 30 minutes because of the headaches. Side effects make her reluctant to take painkillers prescribed to ease the headaches, although she occasionally takes a non-aspirin pain reliever.

She even found a silver lining in the compassion of neighbors, some of whom she'd never before met. Some appeared at her door in New Hebron, Miss., with casseroles. Her church congregation prayed for her and her husband.

"It was absolutely great to find out how great a community we live in," Scott said. "They told me how they prayed for me and everybody was like family."

Stephanie Ayula

On Sept. 4, 2005, Stephanie Ayula of Hillside, N.J., was a carefree 3-year-old carrying a bouquet of white flowers at her aunt's wedding in Nigeria. The next day, she and her maternal grandparents were ambushed en route to evening church services.

Her grandfather was fatally shot; her maternal grandmother wounded and Stephanie gravely injured in a hail of gunfire.

Bullets had ripped across her head, tearing away her forehead and scalp, destroying her right eye and leaving her exposed brain hemorrhaging badly. She was treated at a local hospital before being moved to larger facilities in Benin, then Ibandan in Nigeria. As soon as her parents, both health professionals who were unable to attend the wedding, learned of the shooting, they feared Stephanie's death.

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