July 23, 2012
Light after the Dark Night Shooting
Amid the tragic loss of life, an amazing story of protection.
Brad Strait is pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver, and like many in the Mile High City, he was directly affected by the shootings at the Aurora Theater. One of the young women from his congregation was shot. The story of what happened to her is one we just had to share:
As a chaplain for several police and fire departments, I counseled parents just hours after the Columbine shootings in 1999. However, the tragic Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora hit closer to home. One of the victims was a 22-year-old woman from my church, Petra Anderson. Petra (pronounced pay-tra) was hit four times by a shotgun blast. Three pieces of shot hit her arm, and one entered her brain.
I spent all day Friday in the ICU with Petra and her family. Her condition was critical. A piece of buckshot had entered her face through her nose, traveled through her brain, and rested at the back of her skull.
She was admitted to surgery, but the doctors could offer little hope since so much of her brain had been traversed by the bullet. If she survived, the damage might limit her speech, thinking, and mobility.
After five hours, the surgery was finished, and a doctor brought us the news: “It went well, and she’s recovering now. There is minimal brain damage, and we removed the bullet cleanly.”
Each doctor wore a warrior’s smile, but they remained professional and reserved: “Something might still go wrong. We need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.”
Tears of joy and appreciation flowed. Hugs were passed around, and we prayed. Some people tried to sleep on the floor, and others were shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street.
I visited Petra the next day, and she looked surprisingly wonderful. The only signs of injury were a small hole in her nose and the medical wrap on her arm. I sat with her mother, Kim (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), amid the darkened room lit by glowing medical screens.
One of the surgeons came to check on Petra. As Petra lay asleep, he told us more about the surgery. What happened was amazing.
The shot traveled through Petra’s brain without causing significant brain damage. He explained that Petra’s brain has a small defect—a tiny channel of fluid running through her brain, winding from her nose to the back of her brain. Only a CAT scan would detect it, and Petra would never have noticed it.
The buckshot entered her brain at the exact point of defect. Like a marble rolling through a small tube, the shot followed the exact route of the defect, and came to rest at the rear of her brain without hitting any of the vital areas. If the shot had entered at a millimeter in any other direction, the channel would have been missed, her brain would have been destroyed, and evil would have won a round.
It is rare for a surgeon to express wonder. Surgeons own the professional world, and they take everything in stride. This was obviously a gifted doctor, and he was kind in his manner. “It couldn’t have gone better. If it were my daughter,” he said quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues were watching him, “I’d be ecstatic. I’d be dancing a jig.”
I couldn’t hide my tears of joy. As a pastor, I would call it a miracle.
In Christianity, we call this prevenient grace: God’s work precedes a future event to ensure a particular outcome. Twenty-two years before the Dark Knight rose, God formed Petra’s brain in such a way that a bullet could travel through it without causing serious damage.
There is much ahead for Petra—more surgeries and perhaps facial reconstruction. Kim will continue to receive chemo therapy. But life remains. The ending has yet to be written for this family.
Read the entirety of the story, and see photos of Petra, on Brad's blog.