A Gunshot to the Head: Aaron’s Story

Aaron was playing outside in his neighborhood with friends when he was shot. He was taken to Johns Hopkins All Children’s, where the team’s specialized, compassionate care helped him heal and eventually go home ready for the new school year.

Patient Aaron with Dr. George Jallo

Aaron with Dr. George Jallo at Johns Hopkins All Children's

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Latest News and Stories

Erica hears a knock at the door. She opens it and sees a kid from their Sarasota, Florida, neighborhood.

“AA has been shot!” he says. He’s referring to Erica’s 13-year-old son, Aaron, better known as “AA.” He was out playing and riding his bike with friends.

“No, he wasn’t,” says Erica, almost laughing off what seemed to be a crazy prank. AA is typically a quiet kid who loves football, riding his bike and being a great big brother.

Erica closed the door. She most certainly thought he was joking.

“I felt like AA is so detached from that. That’s not him,” Erica says. “I was about to go back to doing what I was doing, but then my mind said, ‘Call him.’”

She calls, but the phone goes straight to his voicemail.

“Now I’m frustrated, but I opened the door and the kid is still standing in the yard,” Erica says. “So, I ask the kid, ‘Where is he?’”

The kid points and says, “around the corner.”

It was probably 200 feet from the house. Suddenly, a family member who lives nearby is frantically running up to Erica.

“Oh my God, your baby!” she says. Erica remains calm, and asks her to do the same.

She takes Erica to AA.

“He had been shot, but he was sitting up in a chair and conscious,” Erica says. “I wasn’t realizing the seriousness of the injury, I thought maybe he was just grazed by the bullet.”

She kneels down next to him. The paramedics were already there, and they’re starting to cut off his clothes.

“Mommy is right here,” says Erica to AA.

The crowd surrounding the scene starts growing. Then she hears that voice in her head again.

“That was just God talking to me and telling me, ‘You need to go,’” Erica says. “Because I felt myself getting ready to interfere with the paramedics, since I work at a hospital. I was asking them how I can help, but the police officers there told me to let them do their job.”

Erica is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and has worked hands-on with trauma patients before. But she knew time was of the essence, and it was better to trust the experts to do their job. She and AA’s dad packed up and headed to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, where he would soon be transported.

“Energy matches energy. It was an emotional situation, so I didn’t want things to get crazy,” Erica says.

Waiting in the Emergency Center seemed like a lifetime for the anxious mom. AA first got a CAT scan, then headed straight into surgery, led by pediatric neurosurgeon George Jallo, M.D.

“That’s a devastating injury. He was lucky to still be alive,” says Jallo, also vice dean and physician in chief at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “When you consider gunshot head wounds, half of patients will pass away. Another 20-30% have a not desirable outcome. But we were ready, waiting for him. We have a dedicated pediatric team so we’re always going to push for the best possible opportunities for him to recover to the best of his potential.”

The CAT scan shows where the bullet is, or where the bullet has exited the head. In surgery, the team focuses on debriding, or removing, some of the skin, hair, tissues and fragments of the bullet from the bone, while also stopping any bleeding.

“We never chase after the bullets because they go inches into the brain, and we can’t follow them down because that would cause further injury,” Jallo says. “There’s still some bullet fragments that we keep an eye on and as long as it doesn’t cause future problems, we leave those alone. The brain also swells with an injury like this, so we also expand the skull to give his brain more room.”

After surgery, it’s a recovery process–waiting to see how AA will respond.

“The biggest thing that I really really loved was the communication. Each team was on the same page. Everyone was on one accord,” Erica says. “Another beautiful part was that they always involved us and there was always a daily goal.”

Neurological functions started looking good. He was wiggling his toes, and giving thumbs up.

“Everyone was in amazement of his recovery,” Erica says. 

After 18 days in the hospital and one day before Erica’s birthday, AA was discharged to go home, and without the need for pain medication. And the best part, within days, he was ready to start the new school year. It was a great birthday gift, indeed.

“Everybody involved with AA’s care was just so sweet. They belong exactly where they are. They need to work with kids,” Erica says. “If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to donate, donate, donate!”

Gun Safety

The circumstances surrounding Aaron’s shooting are still under investigation, but neurosurgeon George Jallo, M.D., notes that June was a busy one for gunshot wounds.

Petra Stanton, supervisor for SafeKids Florida Suncoast at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital works hard to keep kids in the community safe, including providing gun safety tips to the local community.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death for children and teens ages 1-19 in the United States.

 “For kids, it all comes down to access. There are a couple of different ways we need to think about this. If a small child or a teen is able to reach a gun, the people around them may be at greater risk of getting shot. They may even be a danger to themselves,” Stanton says. “If a toddler grabs a gun, they grab the trigger, they may shoot themselves or their sibling. When it comes to pre-teens and teens, we have to consider risky behaviors. Whether the kid may be showing off or may have suicidal ideation, they should not have access to loaded guns.”

“Guns should be out of reach and out of sight,” Stanton says. “It’s also important to teach kids that if they find a gun, to not touch it and find an adult. Also, for playdates or sleepovers, normalizing conversations with the other caregiver about whether or not they own a gun and whether or not the gun is out of sight and out of reach is very important.”