ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Specifically a month after Matt Mika was shot while practicing for a baseball game, he drove with his father to the field here where he once lay dying, his face yellowing, then graying, his eyes lifeless.
A lobbyist and longtime coach of the Republican congressional baseball team, Mr. Mika was one of four individuals shot outdoors the nation’s capital on a sunny morning in June. A gunman upset over President Trump’s election fired at least 70 rounds at the team as it practiced ahead of its annual charity game against the Democrats.
Mr. Mika wanted to show his father what it looked like.
Standing close to pavement stained by the cleaning solution used to wash away the gunman’s blood, Mr. Mika, 39, pointed to the spot by initial base where he had chatted with an additional coach ahead of the shots began. He told his father, Joe, how long it took him to notice the flash of the rifle’s muzzle just before he turned to run, sprinting through a gate behind the very first-base dugout.
As he fled, Mr. Mika was shot in his chest, millimeters from his heart, and in his left arm, severing his median nerve. He collapsed onto a patch of dirt, his life slipping away.
But thanks to an improbable series of events — the particular path of a bullet, a specially educated paramedic, the protection of the Capitol Police — he lived.
Interviews more than months with Mr. Mika, his teammates, paramedics, surgeons and loved ones paint a portrait of an unexpected survival and recovery that defied the expectations of each and every healthcare specialist he encountered on the day of the attack.
He has given that sought to escape the focus showered on the victims of higher-profile shootings in the United States, attempting to resist the feeling that his identity is solely that of a survivor.
But practically every single hour brings a reminder of what Mr. Mika can no longer do.
‘This Dude Is Dead’
Following he was shot, almost every little thing went right. Almost everything had to.
Of the four victims, Mr. Mika was labeled the most extreme case for paramedics: a “red.”
Chad Shade, a paramedic of 14 years for the Alexandria Fire Division, discovered Mr. Mika. He could see his heart inside of a sucking chest wound the size of a fist.
Armed with a set of military-grade response capabilities unusual for a paramedic, Mr. Shade swiftly applied HyFin occlusive chest seals, frequently used by medics in war, to block airflow into Mr. Mika’s physique.
Mr. Shade said Mr. Mika wore the expression of his most dire sufferers: “They just have that appear of impending doom. And they will look at you, and they go, ‘I’m going to die, aren’t I?’
“Other than the reality that he was awake, you could have stated: ‘This dude is dead.’ The fact that he was not was outstanding,” Mr. Shade said.
Mr. Mika did not have time to wait for a rescue helicopter. During the 15-minute ambulance ride to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, Mr. Shade, who studies health-related journals in his free time, functioned as something akin to a trauma surgeon on the go. Paramedics increasingly play that role to give victims of shots from assault rifles a possibility to live.
He borrowed yet another method from the battlefield, injecting an IV medication called tranexamic acid, which helped Mr. Mika’s blood to clot. He inserted 3-inch needles in Mr. Mika’s chest walls to let air escape. Mr. Shade also helped reinflate Mr. Mika’s lungs, which had collapsed as the bullet that penetrated his chest exploded into fragments inside him.
Fading into a state of shock in the ambulance, Mr. Mika talked quietly to himself, attempting to communicate with his mother, who died of breast cancer a decade ago. He turned to Mr. Shade and asked him to recount the scene to his father and his girlfriend, Kristi Boswell, in case the moments had been his last.
Mr. Shade, who had raced to the scene with another paramedic just following finishing a 24-hour shift, remembers tearing up soon after dropping off Mr. Mika, his voice cracking as he attempted to explain more than the phone to Mr. Mika’s father how dire the wounds were.
Right after Mr. Mika arrived at the hospital, surgery began within minutes. Dr. Libby Schroeder, a trauma surgeon, spent two hours closing holes in his chest to restore lung function and sewing together tissue torn apart by the shrapnel nevertheless inside Mr. Mika.
She knew he had a likelihood: His heart was untouched.
By the afternoon, Mr. Mika was fit enough to be interviewed by the Capitol Police and the F.B.I. He could not talk, so he drew maps of the scene.
Two days later, Dr. Schroeder embarked on one more round of surgery, unsure of what to expect. She had provided his body time to heal, but knew that his condition could have grown worse had his tissue material deteriorated. She drew up eight contingency plans.
When she opened his chest, she felt a rush of relief: The tissue had healed more entirely than she had anticipated. She was in a position to skip the operation.
“I’ve told Matt many instances he’s one particular of the luckiest men and women I know,” Dr. Schroeder said.
Turning to Other Survivors
Even with the optimistic prognosis, months passed ahead of Mr. Mika could really feel his physique healing. As time wore on, he started to feel far more alone with his discomfort.
He turned to other victims of mass shootings, trying to make sense of what his new life looked like. Soon after he received a call from Kristina Anderson, who was shot 3 times in her French class in the course of the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, they became quickly pals, counseling every other on their recoveries over the telephone.
Soon after, Mr. Mika got in touch with Nick Robone, who was shot in the chest at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in October. Mr. Robone has in turn contacted victims of November’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Mr. Mika and Mr. Robone have talked on the phone about the anonymity they craved right after receiving so much attention as victims of higher-profile shootings.
“I don’t want to be known as Nick Robone, the survivor of Route 91,” Mr. Robone mentioned.
For Mr. Mika, old acquaintances have stopped and pointed at him when he walks through the hallways of the Capitol. They are, he believes, unsure how to react, whether or not to ask about Mr. Mika’s recovery or assume he has somehow moved on.
“It gets old when people say you appear very good,” he stated.
Along with Mr. Robone and Ms. Anderson, he has turn out to be so accustomed to friends’ checking in right after mass shootings that Mr. Mika sent the other two a text message the day of the shooting in Sutherland Springs: “Here we go again.”
The victims of June’s congressional baseball shooting continue to see and counsel 1 an additional. Mr. Mika met privately in August with Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Property majority whip, who was gravely wounded. The two compared scars and discussed the small triumphs of their therapy applications.
“His wife and my girlfriend yell at us because we’re undertaking also considerably,” Mr. Mika said with a laugh. “We’re all trying to get back to some kind of routine, back to what life could be like now.”
He struck up an additional unlikely friendship. Jayson Werth, a Washington Nationals outfielder, visited Mr. Mika in the hospital and came away shaken.
“The baseball field is a sanctuary. That must be a secure location, regardless of whether you play it in the sandlot or in higher school or college or in the minor leagues,” stated Mr. Werth, who regularly exchanges texts with Mr. Mika and meets him for lunch. “I just have a challenging time wrapping my head around it.”
‘It Eats Me Up Inside’
Mr. Mika’s days are now a mix of rehabilitation and gradually rising function hours. He has talked to Ms. Anderson about the loneliness and isolation that set in half a year, or maybe nine months, after a shooting, as friends and relatives anticipate victims to be settling back into their rhythms.
“I appear greater than I feel,” Mr. Mika stated. “You might look wonderful, but you actually don’t know how folks feel.”
At evening, he feels the bullet fragments moving around in his chest. He sleeps on his back to relieve pressure on his chest and left arm.
He has no feeling in his left hand, so he cannot wear ties or cuff hyperlinks to function. A single afternoon, as he attempted to replace a leaky pipe in his bathroom, he realized he could not screw in the pipe with no feeling in his hand. He vacuums incessantly, utilizing the pushing motion to strengthen his wrist. He hopes to regain feeling within a year.
On some days, shrapnel pops out of his chest, and he will send a photo of it to Dr. Schroeder to mark the absurdity.
When he returns to his house on Capitol Hill around 5:30 or 6 p.m. on weekdays, he is lonely and restless. As an alternative of the hockey, basketball and softball games he when played 4 nights a week, he has nurtured new habits, such as reading short stories about World War II heroes and watching Ken Burns’s documentary “The Vietnam War.”
When Mr. Mika travels for his job at Tyson Foods, he grows anxious that individuals he encounters want him to recount his trauma. He would rather they not know.
“I want to get back to some variety of routine in life,” Mr. Mika stated, “and not have this incident define who I am.”
The plainest reminders of Mr. Mika’s previous life take on outsize meaning, like when he returned to the Potbelly sandwich shop near his workplace late in the summer season and the employees remembered his usual order: salami, roast beef, turkey and ham.
He sees physical therapists in downtown Washington for hours at a time, his gunshot wounds in plain view of other individuals nursing back and shoulder injuries. He talks to a therapist and consults his girlfriend’s preacher.
“We nonetheless have moments where we’re like, ‘You got shot!’” Ms. Boswell mentioned. “There’s a lot of pain behind the smile. I had a lot of a meltdown.”
Joe Mika remembers tying his son’s footwear, changing his bandages and clothes for him in the weeks following the shooting, assisting him live his life in reverse.
“I don’t think my wife and I will ever cease worrying about him,” he mentioned.
Whilst he readjusted to house life over the summer time, even a walk about the block would tire him. On his very first jog following June’s shooting, he started to tear up midway by means of.
“It eats me up inside,” Mr. Mika said of his new confines.
When he is in a crowd, his thoughts drift to what it took for him to be there.
He tries to keep away from pondering about the gunman, believing that might grant him a type of ownership of his life.
“I’m angry this particular person has taken away my capacity to be typical,” he stated.
This peaceful pocket of suburban Washington still bears the scars of June’s shooting. Bullet holes pockmark the fencing and storage units that ring the field, and the very first-base dugout exactly where members of Congress ducked for cover. New grass has grown more than the stretch of the outfield where Mr. Scalise staggered.
Mr. Mika visits after a month, hoping to make sense of what occurred to him. He stands on the patch of dirt exactly where he collapsed. He calls these trips his greatest therapy.
Published at Sat, 13 Jan 2018 12:13:54 +0000