If you want to understand the true horror of gun violence, talk to a pediatric surgeon like John Densmore, a pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Between November 2012 and August 2016 he’s treated 12 gunshot victims. Children. The hospital as a whole has treated 200. Children.
In its most recent podcast, released this week, Milwaukee Public Radio’s Precious Lives talked to Densmore, who recalled the most memorable of the 200 — a one-year-old boy who was inside a home shot up by a gang over a drug deal. It was the wrong house.
It’s today’s “must read”.
Densmore needed the permission of the one-year-old boy’s family to tell his story. They didn’t hold back.
The baby, Bill Thao, had lost a lot of blood by the time Densmore arrived at the hospital. He tried, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says.
In a matter of minutes, the team made a decision: They would try to place a special catheter into a vein in Bill’s neck or arm.
But Densmore couldn’t get it in place, and he didn’t have the luxury of waiting.
He started surgery.
Major vessels — arteries and veins — carry blood from the heart throughout the body. The bullet, which had entered the infant’s stomach, had an incredibly unlucky trajectory, tearing through a set of arteries and veins tasked with transporting blood to his legs.
Densmore and his team worked feverishly to control the bleeding and isolate the injury, but there was something they couldn’t see because of all the blood.
The bullet had hit a second set of blood vessels.
Seconds ticked by, and Bill got worse. The bleeding did not stop. They lost his pulse.
And that was that. The baby was dead. All that was left was to tell the family.
It was, he said, like “watching a soul come unstitched.”
He says national programs would help — after-school programs, improved child welfare, and other efforts to prevent violence.
“I know there are already people doing wonderful work; my only plea is more, more,” he said. “We need more help. It’s not a simple thing, it’s many things. And it’s expensive.”
When he repairs a kid, he says he hopes it’s “an 80-year solution.” But some of them come back, shot again.
The woman told the doctor about how her son fell in with a group of friends she was wary of and how her long work hours kept her away. Densmore gently asked if moving was an option. It wasn’t, the woman replied. A parent, she sighed, can only do so much.
It was something he had heard from other parents.
Densmore mentioned Project Ujima, a hospital program that provides a wide range of services, including counseling, for families after a violent injury to a child.
“I think it’s important to know you’re not alone and that the struggles you feel, many others have felt,” he said to the mother.
The patient’s mother later decided to cut back on her work hours so she can take her son to and from school. But it’s probably not a sustainable solution. Densmore worried about seeing this patient again, treating him for another gunshot wound.
But he knows the future is out of his hands.
“I have a lot of hope because that patient has someone who loves him and that’s the first step,” he said. “If you’ve got that, then you’ve got something to work with and then the community needs to figure out ways to support them
If a community — a nation — is interested in doing so, of course.