Home Health news Three Super Bowl shooting victims reveal how they’re adjusting to life with bullets STILL lodged in their bodies

Three Super Bowl shooting victims reveal how they’re adjusting to life with bullets STILL lodged in their bodies

by Editor

When two men opened fire at the Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade in 2024 – glee gave way quickly to chaos.

Those men killed one woman and injured a further 24 people – casting ripples of devastation throughout the community. 

Three of the victims of that day have spoken out for the first time, revealing how the horror lives on with them – literally. 

They are still adjusting to life with bullet fragments lodged in their bodies.

James Lemons, 39, lost his job as a warehouse worker as a result of a bullet wound to his right thigh. 

The youngest victim, Mireya Nelson, 15, is living with bullet fragments splayed out in her shoulder, but trusts the doctor’s decision to leave it in, even as she undergoes painful physical therapy.

Sarai Holguin, 71, has accepted her bullet as a ‘friend’, despite the fact that it prohibits her from seeing her elderly father and makes moving her foot difficult. 

These three survivors are emblematic of a larger debate in the medical community -whether it’s right for doctors to leave bullets in someone’s body after they’ve been shot.

They might do it for a range of reasons. For one, cutting a bullet out of someone who has already been wounded intensely might cause more damage, blood loss and trauma than is necessary – especially when the bullet is lodged in an area that won’t do any harm. 

For another, if the bullet is difficult to reach because it’s close to important anatomical structures like blood vessels or nerves, doctors might leave it in. 

In 2023, 42,967 Americans died from gun wounds according to the National Institute for Health Care Management. Yet only 15 percent of hospitals have policies on bullet removal, Kaiser Family Foundation reported.

People who leave the hospital with bullets still in their bodies are more likely to return to the ER within six months of their initial injury than those who get bullets removed,  according to a 2021 study from Washington University in St. Louis

Doctors chose to leave bullets or their fragments in these three Chief’s fans who ended up in hospitals on that fateful day in February. 

Mr Lemons and his daughter Kensley at the parade.

Mr Lemons and his daughter Kensley at the parade.

Mr Lemons had his daughter hoisted on his shoulder, looking out at the celebration, when he was shot in the back of his right thigh at the parade. 

After taking a scan of his leg, the doctors discovered the bullet had narrowly missed important blood vessels, and was sitting in a part of Mr Lemons thigh that they believed he would heal easily.  

So, they sent him home with the slug still buried in his leg. 

But for Mr Lemons, who works a warehouse job that regularly requires him to move 100 pound packages around the workplace, this was far from the truth. 

The pain the bullet caused in his leg made it difficult to walk – let alone work.

So he lost his job, and with it, his insurance. 

This caused him great distress – not just in dealing with the trauma of being shot, but the pressures of caring for a family on a single income with mounting medical debts.

The $1.9 million in funds that was raised for victims of the SuperBowl shooting by United Way has yet to be made available to families like the Lemons. 

Instead, they’re relying on donations to a GoFund me to be able to afford Mr Lemons bullet removal surgery later this month.

Luckily for Erika Nelson, the mother of 15 year old parade victim, Mireya Nelson, her job in healthcare provides robust insurance that has paid for Mireya’s treatments. 

At the parade, Mireya was hit by a bullet that nicked her chin and went through her jaw into her shoulder before exiting out her arm. 

After treating the initial wounds, her doctors decided that the teenager had been through enough surgery, and opted to leave bullet fragments in her shoulder. ‘I don’t really care for them,’ Mireya said. 

Now, Mireya sees a therapist at the request of her mother, but her only complaint is that physical therapy is sometimes painful. She also notes that the scars on her chin are bumpy. 

Erika, like any mother, worried about the psychological toll that this would take on her daughter, but ultimately decided that the doctors made the right decision. 

‘I don’t want her to keep going back in the hospital and getting surgery. That’s more trauma to her and more recovery time, more physical therapy and stuff like that,’ Erika said. 

Mrs Holguin's foot hasn't acted the same since she got shot. Her foot dangles limply, and she has a hard time moving her toes.

Mrs Holguin’s foot hasn’t acted the same since she got shot. Her foot dangles limply, and she has a hard time moving her toes. 

Mrs Holguin is living with a bullet in her knee.

Mrs Holguin is living with a bullet in her knee. 

In some cases, people are able to adapt to their new life with a foreign body tagging along. That’s what happened with Mrs Holguin. 

Mrs Holguin was shot near her knee at the parade, and quickly helped to the hospital by ‘anonymous heroes’. There, the doctors determined that the best way to care for her was to leave the bullet in, perform a couple damage control surgeries and patch her wound with a device called a WoundVac.

This high-tech device is attached to a gentle vacuum which removes pressure to help a big wound heal faster, according to Johns Hopkins. The device costs roughly $800 per month. 

For several weeks, Ms Holguin saw doctors nearly daily to monitor her progress. 

Between those visits, the WoundVac and the initial surgeries, the bills quickly piled up for Mrs Holguin. 

The native Mexican who became a US citizen in 2018 had a hard time comprehending the complex bills and forms dropped off at her mailbox, but was able to receive help through her local consulate. 

Once she was able to secure payments for her medical bills through the Jackson County victim fund, her distress in dealing with the event dampened. 

The Chiefs parade took place at Union Station in downtown Kansas City Missouri in February 2024.

The Chiefs parade took place at Union Station in downtown Kansas City Missouri in February 2024. 

She said now, she and her bullet, ‘became friends so that she doesn’t do any bad to me anymore.’ 

Still, she cannot travel to see her father back in Mexico, and has trouble moving her foot. But she’s moving forward in her new reality, with her new friend, the bullet, permanently inside her.  

‘I have processed this new chapter in my life,’ Holguin said. ‘I have never given up and I will move on with God’s help.’ 

Despite how common it is for doctors to leave bullets in bodies, some providers question its validity. 

Leaving a bullet in a body sometimes leads to further physical and psychological complications, Dr LJ Punch, a trauma surgeon based in St. Louis, told KCUR. 

In terms of the physical, if a bullet contains lead, the chemical can leech into the blood stream over time, according to the CDC. Chronic lead exposure can lead to nerve damage, brain damage and death. 

Then there are the cases where the bullet gets infected. Other times, it can poke out of the skin, like a splinter – which is painful and unsightly for many patients. 

Also, sometimes the scar tissue that forms around a bullet inside someone’s body can press on nerves, ligaments or muscles – inhibiting movement or making it painful.

The psychological toll of keeping a bullet in someone’s body is another concern that doctors might need to consider, Dr Brendan Campbell, a pediatric surgeon, told KCUR 

‘Many times it’s the emotional, psychological injuries, which many of these patients take away as well,’ he said. 

Leaving a bullet in someone’s body can be a physical reminder of what they went through. 

And ‘when people stay in their trauma, that trauma can change them for a lifetime,’ Dr Punch added. 

33 percent of survivors of gun violence report living in fear of the event happening again, according to EveryTown research. 43 percent of survivors reported needing psychological support after living through gun violence. 

Yet many survivors of gun violence are put back out into the world without resources, with mounting bills and a fresh bullet still in their body, like the Chief’s fans.  

 ‘Trauma care is war medicine,’ Punch said. ‘It is set to be ready at any moment and any time, every day, to save a life. It is not equipped to take care of the healing that needs to come after.’

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