In the blink of an eye …

In the blink of an eye … – accidents

Ken Testorff

That’s how quickly a person’s life can change. Just ask the 23-year-old E-5 who is facing a lifelong sentence of paralysis after a civilian friend (former Sailor) accidentally shot him. The friend was reassembling and reloading a .45-caliber pistol he had cleaned.

This mishap occurred at the private residence of the E-5 and his housemate, a Navy E-6. The latter was in another room and didn’t witness the shooting; however, he and the friend gave first aid to the victim and called 911.

Once at a local hospital, the victim was talking and moving limbs, so doctors believed his prognosis was good. They thought the bullet had entered the back of his neck and had exited through his cheek. Exploratory surgery, though, revealed otherwise.

The bullet had fragmented after entering the back of the victim’s neck on the left side. One fragment was lodged inside his spinal column, while another had exited through his left cheek. Surgery also revealed damaged jugular and carotid arteries, which the doctors were able to repair.

A neurosurgeon, however, reviewed the case and determined the victim probably had irreversible damage to his spinal cord. In a few days, when the victim had regained some feeling in his toes and lower extremities, doctors determined that removing the bullet fragment would provide the best chance of recovery.

Surgery to remove the fragment was successful, and the doctors learned the spinal cord wasn’t damaged. They didn’t have to fuse vertebrae to stabilize the victim’s neck. However, there was one important piece of bad news: The nerve root of one vertebrae on the left side was severed completely. This finding meant the victim would be paralyzed for life, except for some use of his head and possible use of his right arm.

According to the police report and the E-6 housemate, no alcohol or drugs were involved in this case. The E-6 and civilian friend were credited with saving the victim’s life.

In another incident, a student O-2 was in his apartment when a neighbor and classmate called. The latter was asking questions about loading and unloading a new rifle he just had bought. The O-2 invited the classmate to his apartment to troubleshoot an apparent problem with the weapon.

After several failed attempts to load and unload the rifle with live rounds, the O-2 started to his room to get a cleaning rod to clear a possible obstruction inside the muzzle. Meanwhile, the neighbor stood up with the rifle in his hands. A round accidentally discharged, entering the top of the O-2’s left foot and exiting his heel in a crossing pattern, from left to right.

The victim called 911 and was taken to a naval hospital for treatment and observation. Doctors released him a few days later, and he spent 30 days on convalescent leave.

As the victim’s CO commented, “Every weapon should be treated as though it’s loaded. The O-2 lost track of how many rounds he had put in the chamber. Then he broke the most important rule of all: Never cross a line of fire. He should consider himself very lucky.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Navy Safety Center

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group