When he survived a gunshot to the chest, his doctors called him lucky, but there was more to it than that.
- Posted on Jul 24, 2017
The phone rang at 11 p.m after we’d gone to bed. Those calls are never good news. My husband, Mike, answered. When he hung up, he just stared at me for a long moment. “It’s Adam,” he said. “He’s been shot.”
Our 32-year-old nephew, Adam, a police officer in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, had taken a round to the chest at close range. He’d been airlifted to a hospital in West Virginia. That’s all we knew. It wasn’t until two days later that we got the full story. About what really happened that cool October night.
It had started out like any other patrol shift. Adam sat in his cruiser off a main road, checking for speeders. He was a big, burly guy, never fazed by a thing. That much I’d learned when Adam was in his early twenties. Back then, he lived with Mike and me for two and a half years in Ohio, until he graduated from the police academy in Columbus. In that time, he’d become more than a nephew. He was like my own son, even if he jokingly called me “Warden” because of my strict house rules.
I’d hoped he’d stick around Ohio after graduation. In fact, I pleaded with him to stay. But Adam was insistent on going back to Kentucky. Born and bred in the Bluegrass State, he couldn’t wait to return to his small hometown of Prestonsburg, nestled in the coal-rich hills that were full of picturesque hollows and rushing streams. “It feels like Kentucky is asking me to come back,” he told me. “Kentucky will always be home.”
Of course, I worried about Adam’s safety as a police officer. “I’ll be helping people in car wrecks and handing out speeding tickets, nothing too crazy,” Adam reassured me. “You don’t have to worry, Warden.”
Saved by the Good Book
He was right. In his nine years on the force, he’d rarely had to draw his weapon. He’d typically work the night shift, get home at four o’clock in the morning, sleep and wake up in time to coach football at the local high school. Adam seemed to know just about everyone in Prestonsburg. “It’s not like we’re in Mayberry,” he often said, “but we’re pretty good people.”
That October night, Adam pulled over a young guy for speeding. When he got out of his cruiser and approached the car, however, the driver gunned it.
Adam ran back to his cruiser, notified the dispatcher and raced to catch up. The main road was clear, which meant the guy had turned up one of the side roads into the hollows. A wisp of stirred-up dust was a clue. He followed it up and around a curving road, deeper and deeper into the mountains. At last, he spotted the car parked in front of a neat brick home. He got out of his cruiser and knocked on the front door.
A woman answered. A relative of the speeder’s? She seemed flustered. “He’s in the back,” she said, gesturing toward the back bedroom. The woman tried to get him to come out, but he refused. Adam called for backup. A few minutes later, Ross, a rookie on the police force, arrived, and the two of them proceeded to the back room.
Adam opened the bedroom door... and found himself staring down the barrel of a .38-caliber pistol. The guy who’d been speeding was shielding himself behind a boy who seemed no more than four or five years old. Adam instantly knew the next few seconds would be crucial.
“Listen,” Adam said, keeping his voice steady, “you don’t want anybody to get killed here. Just put the gun down, let the boy go....”
He continued to talk until the gunman backed away from the kid and put his gun on the floor. The boy ran out of the room. Adam heaved a sigh of relief. But the man was acting funny. He kept glancing back at the gun, moving as if he were going to lunge for it. Ross went for his Taser, but the stun gun malfunctioned. In that instant, the man grabbed his gun, turned toward Adam and shot him point-blank.
Adam staggered backwards, clutching his chest, but he didn’t go down. He fired his weapon four times until the gunman fell to the floor, incapacitated. Then Adam fled the house, Ross close behind him. They stumbled up a small hill.
“Ross, get me a GSW bandage from the car!” Adam said. He held his gun in one hand, in case the gunman reappeared, and with the other, pressed the anticoagulant bandage Ross brought him tightly to the wound. It burned like the dickens. Ross’s face was a mask of horror as blood poured from Adam’s chest and drenched his shirt and pants.
Seven minutes. That’s how long it took the ambulance to arrive. Adam was later flown to the nearest trauma hospital. The doctors and nurses cut off his bloody uniform and prepped him for surgery.
That night, that terrible night, Mike and I prayed for the impossible. That Adam would make it. Or that we’d at least get to see him at the hospital one last time.
But we never did. Because Adam didn’t stay in the hospital long enough for us to visit. He was back at home in two days. Back at work in just three months. Doctors told him he was lucky. But I knew there was more to it than that.
Two things saved Adam’s life that night. Those GSW anticoagulant bandages weren’t standard issue for Prestonsburg’s police. Nope. Adam had special-ordered them months earlier—for no particular reason at all.
There was something else too. The trauma surgeon said he’d never seen anything like it. The bullet went through Adam’s chest, cracked his sternum, then turned and stopped…just short of his heart. In fact, it remains there to this day, too risky for surgeons to remove.
What stopped that bullet? What slowed it down just enough so it didn’t pierce Adam’s heart? The answer to that was found on Adam’s bloodstained uniform. All the engraved buttons on his shirt were intact. All except the one at the center— where the bullet hit. That button had a dent in it. Right on the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Adam’s beloved home state.