Second Chance

Longmont, CO

(I wrote this for an essay project as if someone else interviewed me, just to make the story flow.)

Second Chance - TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) survivor hopes to inspire

If you had a second chance at life, what would you do with it?

Randy Davis, a recently honorably discharged soldier of the U.S. Army Reserve, is living proof of triumphing over tragedy. He is a survivor of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that almost claimed his life. He survived being shot in the head.

Randy recently completed an eight-year term of service in the U.S. Army Reserve. He enlisted at 37, going through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Davis' journey of being a survivor doesn't begin here, however. Prior to enlisting as a U.S. soldier, he has been in and out of law enforcement and private security since the early 1990s. He has served as a deputy sheriff in Richmond, Va., as a police officer in Norfolk, Va., and then served as a federal police officer in Colorado shortly after 9/11. The unusual thing about this career is that it has unfolded after he cheated death.

Going back to 1984, Randy was a high school junior living in San Diego. He had recently left his native Virginia to live with his father and stepmother in California. Growing up in rural Virginia had Randy hunting and target shooting, and planning on a military career after high school. But fate stepped in to redirect him.

Nov. 3, 1984, began as many warm autumn Southern California days do: beautiful. Randy had gone target shooting with some schoolmates in the afternoon, not knowing what was about to transpire. He had been roaming the forests, thickets and woods of his native Virginia for years. He had already been in California for a few months and this was an opportunity for him to go target shooting and have fun. He didn't know his new schoolmates were novices when it came to firearms.

Randy and several new schoolmates went to a canyon area in northern San Diego, set up some targets and plinked until sundown. After firing several rounds into targets, the lads called it a night. Randy wanted to enjoy the wooded night air for a few moments, separating from the group briefly. The other teens had returned to the pickup truck that had ferried them out to the desert. About 100 yards away, Randy was climbing out of the canyon when one of the lads pulled the trigger on his .22 rifle several times.

Randy describes what happened next, "I heard the gunshot and a fraction of a second later my head snapped back. The pain was excruciating and I tumbled over an embankment. I was howling in pain as I cradled my broken face, feeling blood pouring between my fingers."

Randy remembers looking up in the moonlight and seeing blood spurt from a hole somewhere on the right side of his face. It turns out the first bullet entered 1/4" from the right corner of his right eye, burrowing through bone, tissue, and brain matter. It came to rest in the right temporal lobe of his brain. A second bullet grazed the left side of his head, just taking a chunk of flesh with it as it sped by at 1,300 feet per second.

Randy remained conscious and crawled his way up the embankment, as he describes, like something out of an old Western. He staggered toward the headlights and found four other scared teenagers who rushed him to the local trauma center in Escondido, Calif. The battle to survive continued on that mad dash to the emergency room.

"I had been reading survival manuals and military history, planning on a military career. Suddenly I find myself in the back of a pickup, one arm wrapped around the roll bar and the other hand held against my gushing head wound. I had a moment of clarity going through First Aid stuff I'd learned over my short 16 years. I realized I needed a bandage to control the external bleeding and pulled an old handkerchief from my back pocket. Then I remember thinking, 'OK, I'm going into shock, what do I do for that? Oh yeah, elevate feet, head and stay warm.' I staggered into the trauma center at Palomar Memorial Hospital fully conscious, covered in mud and blood, with a bullet in my brain, but ALIVE."

The survival ordeals of traumatic brain injury are not limited to what happens at the scene of the injury, but also continues once the patient is in medical care. Randy had stopped the external bleeding but was still bleeding inside the skull - intracranial - which puts pressure on the brain with nowhere for fluids to go. Emergency brain surgery was performed to remove the bullet and damaged brain matter. No one knew what the outcome would be and at 16, Randy had to go into oblivion, not knowing if he would survive the surgery or not. However, several hours later, God allowed him to return and begin starting a second chance at life.

Randy had a depressed skull fracture from the impact of the bullet, and now has a large dent and a question-mark-shaped scar on the right side of his head from surgery. The psychological and emotional aftermath of this incident was off the scales. As for the rate of the severity of his injuries, one doctor described his injury as “catastrophic." At 16, Randy was dealing with PTSD ranked off the charts as well. It would consume many years of his post-injury existence.

According to Randy, "I did my own research years later and came across a published study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) into TBI. The study said 'Firearm related Traumatic Brain Injuries, TBI, result in a 9:10 death ratio.' So I'm 1:10 that survived; pretty slim odds of survival."

When he turned 18, Randy went to Army recruiters, still wishing to serve his country. After telling the recruiters about his shooting, he was told, “YOU CAN'T EVEN BE DRAFTED!" So he wandered, lost for years, not being able to do what he wanted to do since he was a child: serve his country. He worked many dead-end jobs over the years, still dealing with PTSD and not having any resources. Until he found the National Head Injury Foundation, now the Brain Injury Association of America, www.BIAUSA.ORG, and found people who understood TBI.

With proper therapy and resources, Randy moved forward in life, going back to college, earning an associate’s degree in Administration of Justice, magna cum laude. He took a job doing security at a Nabisco factory in Richmond, Va.

Randy pursued a career in law enforcement, seeing it as a way to still serve his country. This was several years after the shooting and his relentless pursuit of normalcy. He had to teach his brain to work harder, and had to fail in some things in life as well in his recovery from an almost fatal shooting.

Randy spent almost 10 years actively wearing a law enforcement uniform of some kind, both in Virginia and Colorado. But it wasn't enough, and he wouldn't stop until he finished something he'd started years before.

In 2005 Randy enlisted, and was accepted, into the U.S. Army Reserve. "I was 16 years old when I got shot, then 20 years later, I'm shipping off for Basic Training!!" He went through basic training and the Army Engineer Heavy Equipment Operator School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to do something other than security/police work. He drove trucks and heavy equipment, and managed to complete eight years of service in the Army without being shot again.

November 2013 marked Randy's 29th anniversary of surviving being shot in the head. He spent the day at his Army unit in Denver, being grateful. "I have to look at each day as a grace from God. Every day I'm still here, I've been given a second chance at life."

Now Randy works in industrial security in northern Colorado. "I read a story in a local paper in the early 1990s about another TBI survivor. That led me to find the support and resources I needed to move forward in life. I want to return the favor," he says. "The incidents and statistics of TBI are staggering, yet public awareness is virtually nil. I want to be a face for traumatic brain injury, TBI. For other TBI survivors, don't let anyone tell you you can't do something. It just takes time and hard work. NEVER QUIT!"

« Previous story
Next story »