June 15, 2022

What They Are Saying: Over 300 Pediatricians Across the Country Share 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) 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 of the 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

“Gun violence can occur at any time, any place and under any circumstances. In this case of road rage, the driver from another car got angry and shot the car through the trunk, and the bullet went into the child sitting in the back seat.– Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, Irvine, CA, Pediatric Surgery

“Freddy was looking forward to starting his junior year of high school. He decided to go to a party with his classmates… At this party, he was shot in the chest with a 9mm Hydra-Shok round… Freddy lost his right lung and required massive blood and plasma transfusions; he is alive by the grace of God and the skill of the nurses and doctors who cared for him. How do we treat his fear? His PTSD? Why was a weapon loaded with rounds not even used in military guns so easily available? … Have any of you seen what these rounds do to a human body? Why am I seeing wounds in civilians that I saw in combat?– Dr. Bert Johansson, El Paso, TX, Pediatric Critical Care

“[L]ast week, a mother brought in her 8-year-old daughter to discuss the child’s difficulties sleeping. Ever since she went through active shooter ‘run, hide, fight’ drills at her elementary school, she has experienced nightmares. She cannot sleep in her own bed. She cannot sleep with the lights off. She cries nearly every day when her mother waves goodbye to her from the bus stop because she is scared it will be the last time she ever sees her mom.– Dr. Nancy Heavilin, Somers Point, NJ, General Pediatrics

“Children who are shot are usually rushed to the hospital—without their parents—as fast as possible by EMS or police. So I have looked into the terrified eyes of many children after they’ve been shot and tried to comfort them. I tell them that they’re in a safe place now, that we’re going to take care of them, while around them our ER staff moves quickly, cutting off clothes, placing IVs, assessing the injuries, treating pain, and doing our best to minimize the damage after the injury occurred. The feeling of their scared eyes, locked on mine, while I tell them they’re safe, is a feeling I don’t forget. There is a promise in that look we share. They desperately want an adult to take care of them. I tell them they’re safe in a safe place now, but in my heart, I don’t know if they are.” – Dr. Halden Scott, Denver, CO, Pediatric Emergency Medicine

“A 17-yearold 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

“One of the many that I have treated in the emergency department and the Level 1 trauma center was a young child who pulled his father’s gun and pretended to play war with his brother; not knowing that the gun was real and loaded he fatally shot his 6-year-old brother in the chest. The child kept crying hysterically, refusing to separate from his dead brother. The parents were agonized for the child who died and their other child who will carry the guilt of killing his brother for life. – Dr. Madeline Joseph, Jacksonville, FL, 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

“Children should be allowed, even encouraged, to make mistakes. That's what childhood is for—trying new things, acting out, and learning from experiences over and over again until both body and mind can mature into a wiser, if imperfect, adult. Our role as adults in society is to make sure those expected childhood mistakes aren't fatal. We can't and shouldn't protect children from all harm. Wherever you personally draw the line, children getting shot should be well beyond what's acceptable. – Dr. Christopher Monson, Coralville, IA, Pediatric Critical Care