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What They Are Saying: Illinois Doctors Among 300 Pediatricians from Across the Country Who Are Sharing stories of Treating Children Impacted by Gun Violence

WASHINGTON – In light of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of gun violence on children, more than 300 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—including 14 pediatricians from Illinois—submitted their own personal testimonies to the Committee, illustrating how America’s gun violence epidemic impacted their patients, communities, and lives.

“The number of pediatricians who took the time to tell their stories is a true testament to how profoundly gun violence impacts children and how extensively it has transformed our profession,” said AAP President Moira Szilagyi in a news release.  “These stories span 40 states, touch on specialties ranging from surgery to neonatology, and collectively demonstrate that the doctors who care for children injured and killed by guns are themselves forever shaped by gun violence.”

Gunfire is now the leading cause of death among American children and teens.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, the most recent year statistics are available, 4,368 American babies, children and teens died from gunfire—amounting to 12 kids every day.

Excerpts from several of the Illinois pediatricians’ testimonies are below.  The full list of testimony is available here, and here by state.

Here’s what they’re saying:

“’Have you ever been shot?’ I had just walked into the room of a teenage male with a prolonged hospitalization due to complications from multiple gunshot wounds. Living on Chicago’s South Side, this was the daily reality faced by so many young people faced who call these neighborhoods home… Statistics tell us that 2021 was one of the most violent years on record in our city, ending with 797 homicides, the most since 1996. Astonishingly, in 2021, there were a record 3,561 shooting incidents in Chicago and, recently, firearm-related deaths have become the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the U.S. … My patient looked down before focusing his gaze on me and stating, ‘It changes your soul.’ The pain and fear in his voice were striking and, in that moment, I realized that his life was forever changed in a way that I could not imagine. He went on to talk about how scared he was, how he kept reliving the incident in his mind, how he was afraid to close his eyes at night, even in the security of the hospital. His body had survived close to 20 bullets, but his psyche was struggling to hang on.– Dr. Julia Rosebush, Chicago, IL, Pediatric Infectious Diseases

“A 17-year old patient once told me she lost 13 friends to gun violence in the last two years alone… A 10-year-old and his mother were shot at in a drive by-shooting while they were visiting grandma… A mother of 6 lost two of her sons to gun violence and spiraled into such a depression she was unable to work or leave the house for a year… The mental, physical, academic(school), economic and family impact of gun violence will be seen for generations. It is changing communities: adults AND children. Are we ready to support these communities for decades to come? Do U.S. lawmakers truly understand the long-term effects of gun violence in America, and how it is actively changing fundamental aspects of society?” – Dr. Hena Ibrahim, Chicago, IL, General Pediatrics

“A 9-year-old gunshot victim arrived in the pediatric ICU from emergent surgery… I spoke with his mother, also a gunshot victim, as she was being treated in the ER. She had been walking two blocks with her son and another infant child from her sister’s home to their own when they were caught in a drive-by shooting. All she could do was flip over her infant’s stroller to protect it and flatten herself and the patient to the side of a house. She did all she could to protect her children and it would not be enough.” – Dr. Adriana Giuliani, Chicago, IL, Medicine and Pediatrics

“I remember seeing a 6-year-old boy in my clinic multiple times over several weeks, each time with a different complaint, but his physical exam and vitals were always completely normal. His mom mentioned to me that the symptoms were only present in the morning and would somehow resolve throughout the day. During his third clinic visit, I asked him if there was any reason that he did not want to go to school. He quickly answered in a quiet voice, ‘I don’t want to get shot.’” – Dr. Nicole Kafati, Chicago, IL, General Pediatrics

“We also care for the siblings, friends, and classmates of firearm violence victims who are forever traumatized by the loss of their loved ones. They present with anxiety, suicidal ideation, and after suicide attempts. A pediatric life lost to firearm violence is tragic. But we must not forget the tens of thousands of children whose lives were touched in other ways by firearm violence: those who lost their quality of life or their loved ones.” – Dr. Megan M Attridge, Chicago, IL, Pediatric Emergency Medicine

The most recent child I treated who died of a gunshot wound was also shot by his brother, who was playing with a gun. As I was standing outside the family conference room collecting my thoughts, I looked down and noticed something on my shoe. It was a piece of brain matter that had fallen out while we were trying to resuscitate the boy. I wiped my shoes and went into the room to tell his mother he was gone.” – Dr. Brian Jones, Chicago, IL, Pediatric General Surgery

Of the children who are admitted to the pediatric ICU with firearms injuries, only 30% have a good overall performance outcome at discharge. Children die all of the time from firearms, and each of these deaths is a tragedy. Yet it is still considered controversial among some to talk about laws that might keep our children safer.” – Dr. Deanna Behrens, Chicago, IL, Pediatric Critical Care

For every child killed by gun violence, there are many more who survive a firearm injury but not without complications. Children who have a nonfatal firearm injury are more likely to get injured by a firearm again in the future. They are also more likely to develop new mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. And this is on top of the worsening mental health crisis children face right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Dr. Samaa Kemal, Chicago, IL, Pediatric Emergency Medicine