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One Bullet: Its impact is felt by more than just the victim

The growing rate of gun violence is taking its toll on those who are saving the lives of the victims.
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Posted at 5:56 PM, Oct 19, 2022

One bullet can impact so many lives.

The shooter.

The victim.

The loved ones of both.

One bullet sets into motion a string of people and events focused on saving a life.

More than 100 people are part of the process, helping the victim from the time of the shooting to the end of rehab.

And one bullet takes a huge emotional and financial toll on everyone involved.

The medics stay back, until they know they can do their job safely at a shooting scene.

The Medics

Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services paramedic Jeffrey Skidmore says the focus is to stop the bleeding.

He says losing blood can create a whole host of problems later for gunshot victims, including organ failure.

"When we get next to the patient, it's all business," Skidmore said, "We got a job to do and I think we get hyper-focused on that. And as far as our emotion or adrenaline, that stuff comes later after the run, when you go back and think about what you saw and what you did."

The paramedics alert the hospital emergency room.

The Doctors & Nurses

Indiana University Health Nurse Jennifer Burchett sees the trauma day in and day out in the emergency department at IU Health Methodist Hospital.     

She calls it coordinated chaos.

"We'll have our trauma team, including our trauma surgeons, their residents. We'll have pharmacy, radiology, social work, chaplain. We'll have a dozen people, just for that one person."

What really hurts, she says, is seeing repeat victims.

"It's hard," Burchett says, "Because you fix them once, you help them once.. and hopefully you never see them again in this situation."

Eskenazi Health Trauma Surgeon Dr. Erik Streib says violence is part of the stress on the medical system.

He has performed operations on countless gunshot victims and says firearm injuries have become the leading cause of death for young people, surpassing car crashes.

"Medical care, surgical care is definitely expensive and is something that is a huge cost to society. And that's one of the reasons why we really look at ways to try to reduce violence," Dr. Streib says.

Further Assistance

That is where Blakney Brooks comes in, as one of the dozens of people a gunshot victim will meet.

Brooks is the Injury Prevention Coordinator at Eskenazi Health.

Her team aims to break the cycle of violence, addressing the root causes one may end up in a situation escalated to gun violence.

Often, she says housing, domestic violence situations and poverty are major factors contributing to these violent encounters.

Brooks points out the hospital is the first touchpoint, when a person gets violently injured.

"They come here," Brooks says, "and this is where that moment or clarity: 'What am I doing wrong? What can I do better?' And so, we're here for that moment."

Brooks team, including social workers, helps victims with transitional housing, providing rides or a plan to get to rehabilitation. She says her team remains with the victim until that person is discharged and oftentimes, long afterward.

The Police

IMPD says the number of shootings are down this year in the city, but police are noticing trends.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant Genae Cook has been the first officer on a shooting scene many times, during her 27 years with IMPD.

She says the full focus of the first person on scene is preservation of life. Then, it's securing the scene and evidence.

Cook says the department is noticing more younger people involved in shootings.

"Younger people being the suspect," Cook says, "And also more females involved, whether they're doing the shooting or they're getting shot. Or they're putting themselves in a place where this type of activity is occurring."

The department says as of the week of October 17, 2022, roughly 560 people have been shot and survived this year.

IMPD also says the homicide rate is down more than 17% this year, compared to last year.

The Victim

Tijideen "T.J." Rowley remembers how the day, the thought he would die, started.

"I woke up early," Rowley says, "You know how you're excited when you have a lot to do in a day?!"

He was 23. He was excited for a poetry slam and looking forward to promoting a rap performance he was part of.

And he had to pick up his mom for an errand.

"It was just really fun. Like you know how they say before you die, you're acting alive at the most. That's how I felt," Rowley recalled.

By nightfall, T.J. was in his truck with his brother and a friend, not far from his mother's house on Indianapolis' northeast side. There was a spat between the siblings and T.J.'s brother tossed a drink inside the truck and got out of the vehicle, leaving T.J. to clean up the mess.

After he tossed the towel into the back of the truck and proceeded to get back into the driver's seat, T.J. felt something behind him. When he turned around, there was a man with a gun to T.J.'s head.

As the carjacker shouted his commands, T.J. focused on another sound --- a voice within him.

"There was a voice that said, 'Don't give him anything. Get the gun right now. So, literally once I hit it, he shot. BOW.. and I just remember defending myself."

The bullets grazed T.J.'s chin and groin area.

T.J. managed to overpower the gunman, shoving him onto a gate. The carjacker took off running.

T.J. had survived this violent encounter.

Moments later, as he got back into his truck, someone else shot at T.J.

This time, the bullet zipped through the truck door, ricocheted, entered through the left side of his chest and lodged into his right arm.

T.J.'s brother saw what happened, ran for help and flagged down a police officer.

"I looked up," T.J. says, "and I'm thinking 'Dang, this is crazy! You know I'm really about to die."

The officer who started CPR was the first of many people who would help to save T.J.'s life.

So many first responders and healthcare workers are seeing more senseless gun violence, since the onset of the pandemic.

"And shout out to cops because they get a bad wrap, but he helped save my life," T.J. said.

T.J. recalls waking up in his hospital room to a nurse sitting by his side.

Her words were chilling.

T.J. recalls, "She said 'Nobody. No doctor in this hospital can explain how a bullet went from one side of your body to the other and missed all your major organs.' And she told me, 'You're here for a reason.'"

The bullet remained in T.J's arm for years and eventually pushed out of his skin on its own.

T.J's recovery was lengthy. He turned to his faith and pushed through the pain, building his strength.

During that time, he found the reason he is still here, as the nurse had told him.

He Spoke with counselors and worked with physical therapists.

Eventually, T.J. Started the "Actor's Cafe", providing a space for actors to learn and practice their craft.

He has produced films, one of which takes aim at gun violence.

He married and is father to 2 young vivacious boys.

From his near-death experience, he's spreading a message about this gun violence epidemic.

"My passion," T.J. says, "is to hopefully through my life, inspire, especially young men like myself, who grew up in at-risk situations, their whole life, to know that that's not the end."