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LAST UPDATE: Wednesday December 17, 2014 09:10PM EST
- February 21, 2011
- Vol. 75
- No. 7
Miraculous Recoveries: I Survived a Bullet to the Head
Like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, They Faced Life-Threatening Injuries. But Now They Are Healing-and Living Life to the Fullest
Rachel Barezinsky, 21
Barezinsky and four high school friends were driving by a spooky old house one night in 2006 when the occupant opened fire, hitting Barezinsky in the head and shoulder (the shooter is now serving 19 years in prison). The bullet passed through the center of her brain, leaving an injury that is difficult to survive, says her neurosurgeon Dr. E. Antonio Chiocca: "Even if people survive it, they're usually in a chronic vegetative state." Her parents were told she had a less than 1 percent chance of living.
But those doctors "didn't know Rachel," says her father, Greg, 50, who has watched his daughter make a recovery even Chiocca calls "close to a miracle." The Worthington, Ohio, senior and cheerleader had part of her skull removed to make room for her swollen brain and showed instant improvement; just a month later she was named homecoming queen and returned to Thomas Worthington High School in a wheelchair and helmet for the ceremony. Her progress has been steady but slow: After years of grueling physical and occupational therapy she can walk (though her left side is weak and she sometimes uses a cane). She spends hours a week on a treadmill and stationary bike and plays Wii games to improve her motor skills. "I've always been a determined person," says Barezinsky. "Why stop now when I need it more than ever?"
Still, she has significant memory problems. She can't remember her boyfriend at the time of the shooting, and she relies on notes and photos to remind her of things she's just done. But she's working as an assistant in a dental office and taking a history class, and she hopes to move out on her own and finally go to college soon. "Attitude is everything," says Barezinsky. "I am going to get my life back."
NEARLY KILLED IN A FAMILY SHOOTING
Chris Keith, 30
Keith was 5 years old when his father suffocated his mother, shot him and his 8-year-old brother Mikey, then killed himself in September 1985. His brother died, and paramedics at the scene pronounced Keith dead. "But then one of them noticed I moved a little bit," says Keith, who stunned doctors by not only surviving a bullet that damaged his cerebellum but recovering quickly with no real lasting physical effects. "They can't explain it," he says. "It's just a miracle." After just days in an ICU in Tulsa and less than a month of inpatient rehab, Chris was well enough to go back to school. Now married with a young son and working as a pharmacy technician in Fort Worth, Keith had nightmares for years and still suffers from psychological issues. But he hasn't seen a doctor in years, and he travels to juvenile centers sharing his story of hardship. His message: "Don't give up," he says. "The odds were stacked against me, but you can't lose hope. There is always hope."
CARJACKERS LEFT HER FOR DEAD
Tracey Deel, 43
On Thanksgiving weekend in 1999, two teenage boys jumped into Deel's Honda in Houston, took her to a field and shot her 12 times-including twice in the back of the head. "It felt like my head exploded," she says. Incredibly, the bullets missed her brain and major organs. Her first surgery lasted nine hours; she's had at least 40 other surgeries, with more to come. But she recovered enough to attend the trials of the teens (one was sentenced to 75 years, the other to life), and now lives in Beaumont, Texas, with her mom. In 2006 she became a nurse. "I'm the ultimate patient," she says. "I think I can really help people."
LITTLE LEAGUER HIT BY A STRAY BULLET
Davonte Kelly, 13
Kelly was waiting to pose for a team photo in Brooklyn in 2009 when "he screamed and grabbed his head," says his mother, Andrea Walters. "Everyone thought a ball hit him." But a CT scan showed a bullet that had "stopped literally millimeters from producing an injury," says his neurosurgeon Dr. Louis Cornacchia. The seventh grader was back on the field two weeks later (police never found the shooter). "It's a lesson about appreciating what you have," says Kelly, "because it could be taken away in a minute."
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