I admit I reacted, um, inelegantly to a new Penn study showing that gun violence scars victims long after the wounds have healed.
Anyone with a pulse in this country should know that shooting victims face lifelong trauma, disabilities, and financial burdens.
My colleagues and I have written countless stories chronicling these shattered lives.
And if anyone needed a fresh example, I wish they were at Monday’s meeting of paralyzed gunshot survivors at the Carousel House when Mykkia McDonald showed up.
McDonald, 24, was the first woman to attend the support meetings which began in July at the request of another paralyzed gunshot survivor who wanted to connect with others in his situation. McDonald was shot 10 times just seven months ago, on April 14. She lost a kidney and the use of her legs, among other injuries. Like so many gunshot survivors, some of her wounds are noticeable; most aren’t.
She was struggling, McDonald admitted to the group, as she pulled up her hoodie to show her valley of a scar nearly splitting her stomach in half. Later, when I visited her at home, I’d see the four steps from the street to her North Philadelphia home that, without help from family, cuts her off from the world outside while she figures out how to pay and install a ramp.
So, yeah, many colorful versions of “no kidding” were uttered when I read about the research. Is another study — even one researchers touted as the largest to focus only on gunshot victims — really needed to show that bullets devastate the lives of survivors?
Well, I certainly don’t need the proof, a couple of the doctors behind the study graciously conceded to me.
And they certainly don’t — they are daily witnesses to toll of gun violence.
“The trouble is that many in the public either choose to ignore it or don’t know about it,” said Dr. Mark Seamon, associate professor of surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Seamon was the principal investigator of the study.
“It’s our hope that through research, by putting actual numbers to it, it can’t be ignored any longer.”
Hope springs eternal, I thought.
But — and this is where this columnist’s cold, cynical heart started to thaw a bit — Seamon and his colleagues didn’t just stop at the research published in JAMA Surgery on Wednesday. They’ve implemented some of the very measurements used in the study, including evaluating patients for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for both future research purposes and ongoing patient care.
The study, which looked at 183 adult survivors of gunshot victims treated at Penn’s trauma center between January 2008 and December 2017, found that nearly half screened positive for probable PTSD. Unemployment and substance abuse also increased after injuries.
The hospital is also taking steps to keep in touch with patients long after they are discharged. Considering they were only able to make contact with a small fraction of the victims targeted for the study, which emphasized early initiation of long-term care, this is huge. You can’t help people if you can’t find them.
Admittedly intuitive, conceded Michael Vella, the lead author of the study who is now an assistant professor of surgery with the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“The problem is that a lot of people won’t do anything about it, higher up, until you study it, until you bring awareness to it,” he said.
The goal, the doctors said, is for this kind of research and care to become “the norm” in all trauma centers.
In fact, Seamon said a forthcoming paper from the American College of Surgeons is expected to call on hospitals to start tracking long-term outcomes for injured trauma patients, from those involved in car accidents to gunshot victims.
Eventually, he said, hospitals that are graded on the number of lives saved will have to dedicate resources to making sure those lives are being lived well.
Eventually can’t come fast enough for gunshot survivors like McDonald.