One victim's story of miracle inside the Colorado shooting

Published 25 July 2012  |  
Twenty-two-year-old Petra Anderson was shot and critically injured during the shooting at The Dark Knight Rises premiere in Aurora, CO, early last Friday, July 20, 2012. In addition to the three shotgun pellets that hit her arm, one pellet went through her nose, rode up the back of her cranium, and hit the back of her skull.

Petra is a Colorado native and graduated from the University of Pacific in May 2012, with a bachelor's degree in music composition. While at UoP, she was named the Conservatory of Music 2011 Presser Scholar. She has been accepted into a graduate program at the University of Maryland School of Music. You can catch glimpses of Petra's heart and soul by listening to her music here: petraandersonmusic.com.

Her pastor, Brad Strait serves as Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Englewood, Colorado, is a Chaplain for several fire and police departments, served twelve years as Chaplain of the House for the Colorado House of Representatives, and teaches Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Denver Seminary.

Strait was at the hospital where Petra underwent delicate surgery to remove the shotgun pellet lodged in her brain.

On his Blog, 'Celtic Straits', Pastor Strait recalls what happened that night.

"At Columbine, I have seen this before. But not up close," he wrote.

"As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain with several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Littleton Columbine shootings.

"However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Night shooting, one of the victims was a 22-year-old woman from my church, Petra Anderson (pronounced Pay-tra). Petra went to the movies with two young friends who are biking across America. You and I have been inundated with news about what happened next. A joyful movie turned into bloody, unbelievable chaos.

"Petra was hit four times with a shot-gun blast, three shots into her arm and one bullet which entered her brain. This a bit of Petra's miracle story."

Strait says he spent all day Friday, "with awesome people from our caring and pastoral team.in the ICU with Petra and her family.

"Her injuries were severe, and her condition was critical. A bullet had entered Petra's face through her nose, and then traveled up through her brain until stopping at the back of her skull. The doctors prior to surgery were concerned, because so much of the brain had been traversed by the bullet. Many areas of brain function were involved. They were hoping to keep her alive long enough to get her into surgery. The prognosis was uncertain-if she lived, Petra might struggle with speech, movement, and thinking due to considerable brain damage. With Kim, Petra's mother (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), we simply cried, hugged, and prayed."

Petra was finally taken into surgery, using two different surgical teams.

"One team of neurosurgeons will open up the back of her skull to remove the bullet and clean up brain damage as best they can. Another ENT-specialty surgical team will then work through Petra's nose by scope to follow the bullet's path up into her brain. Their hope is to remove bone fragments, clean up damaged brain tissue, and reseal her brain to reduce infection," Strait said.

"If you have lived any of your days in a hospital waiting room, you know how long the enduring process is. It has a woeful pattern to it. Sit. Walk. Grab a drink. Sit. Walk. Answer a phone call. Sit. Walk. Hug someone. Sit. Talk to the FBI. Sit. Pick at the food. Sit. Walk. Go down the hall, but not too far because you're afraid to miss something. Back. Hug. Pray. Sit. Sit. A picture of a five year old waiting for next Christmas from January 1st comes to my mind. FOREVER. Only this feels worse: a heavy forever, with no promise of presents, Santa, or good news at the end," he writes.

After the waiting drags for over five hours, tired doctors and nurses spill back into the room, one or two at a time.

"The doctors update us: 'It went well, and she's recovering now. We found very little damage to the brain, and got the bullet out cleanly. It went better than we hoped for.' Each brings a warrior's smile, and a bit of information --information that we turn into hope as we regurgitate it over the next hours. Still, the medical team remains professional and reserved, 'Something might still go wrong. We just need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.'"

Tears and 'thank you's abound.

"We are so thankful for these men and women. We hug. Everyone hugs. Then, round two. Sit. Wait. Pray. Fully dressed people cuddle into small snails and try to sleep on the floor. Some are shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street. Thank you, Lord, for every little thing. We sit. We pray. 'We'll understand better tomorrow.'"

Petra was moved back to ICU. "She looks, surprisingly, wonderful," wrote Strait.

"With a small hole in her nose, and her arm wrapped, she almost looks uninjured. She is medicated and sleeping when I come to visit her on Saturday. I sit, talk, and pray quietly with[her mother] Kim amid the darkened room, lit by glowing medical screens and power switches. Nurses, like quiet soldiers posted on guard, come in, march attentively through the machines, and go out. These men and women really care. Finally, one of the surgeons comes in to check on Petra. He has had some sleep, and looks more like a movie star this time. As Petra sleeps, he retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions. The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn't call it that, he just uses words like 'happily' and 'wonderfully' and 'in a very fortunate way' and 'luckily' and 'we were really surprised by that.' Kim and I know a miracle when we see it."

Strait writes that it seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra's brain without hitting any significant brain areas.

"The doctor explains that Petra's brain has had from birth a small 'defect' in it. It is a tiny channel of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, or a small hole in an oak board, winding from front to rear. Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it.

"But in Petra's case," said Strait, "the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this defect. Like a marble through a small tube, the defect channels the bullet from Petra's nose through her brain. It turns slightly several times, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself. Like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra's brain before she was born, it follows the route of the defect. It is channeled in the least harmful way. A millimeter in any direction and the channel is missed. The brain is destroyed. Evil wins a round."

As he shares, the doctor seems taken aback, said Strait.

"It is an odd thing to have a surgeon show a bit of wonder. Professionally, these guys own the universe, it seems, and take everything in stride. He is obviously gifted as a surgeon, and is kind in his manner. 'It couldn't have gone better. If it were my daughter' he says quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues might be watching him, 'I'd be ecstatic. I'd be dancing a jig.' He smiles. I can't keep my smile back, or the tears of joy. In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It's just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before."

While Strait and the doctor were talking, Petra awakes.

"She opens her eyes, and sits up, 'Mom.' Movie-star doctor spins to grab her, to protect her from falling. The nurse assures him she's been doing this for a while. He talks to her, and she talks back. He asks questions, and Petra has the right answers. 'Where do you hurt, Petra?' 'All over.' Amazed, but professional, he smiles and leaves the set shaking his head. I am so thankful for this man."

Petra is groggy and beat up, but she is herself, said Strait.

"Honestly, I look worse before my morning coffee. 'I'm thirsty,' she proclaims.

"You want an ice cube, honey?" her mother Kim replies.

"Please." Wow!

Petra lays down, goes back to sleep -- a living miracle who doesn't even know it yet. Good flowering out of the refuse pile of a truly dark night. "Thank you, Jesus," Strait whispers.

Strait writes: "Petra, you are amazing. Kim, you, too, are amazing. I am so proud of you both. But God, you are in a league of your own. (Duh.)"

Strait said there is much ahead. "More surgeries. Facial reconstruction, perhaps. And for Kim, chemotherapy to stretch every moment out of life. But life remains. The ending is yet to be written for this family."

On a final note, Strait wrote that he was told Petra will take her first steps the next day.

"Time for the miracle to go for a walk," he said.

Kim and Petra need our help. For more on the Andersons, or to help with their medical costs, please visit www.indiegogo.com/readytobelieve. It is a great site.

More information about supporting Petra Anderson and other shooting victims is also available at Hope Rises on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/HopeRisesReliefFund

"Petra survived," Strait says. "And after her neurosurgery, she appears to be on her way to a full recovery."

Strait continued: "The fact that she is alive and recovering is beyond any value measurable by money. Even so, the financial burden her surgery and medical bills will take on her family will be very heavy."

But that's not the whole challenge. he said.

Last month Petra's mother Kim discovered that the breast cancer she thought was just a bad memory is back and has spread to her liver, bones, and lungs. "Because of complications, she's had to decline traditional treatment and pursue promising but expensive alternative medicine," Strait explained.

The cost for Petra's surgery is high by itself. On top of Kim's cancer costs, it looks unscalable, Strait said.

"Along with Petra, a huge number of other people were injured or killed by a self-styled 'Joker.' These people, their families, and the Aurora community need your help, whether that help comes through money, thoughts, or prayers," he said.

In The Dark Knight, says Strait, Batman tells the Joker that Gotham City is "full of people ready to believe in good." Gotham City may be a fictional place and Batman may a fictional character, but that doesn't mean they're false. And when evil, in the form of man or disease, is horrific, hope will rise.

"We believe that the world is full of people ready to believe in good, and we believe that you are one of those people. No one can change that."

Please help with your donations, thoughts, or prayers, and share this campaign as you are comfortable.

How You Can Help and Where Your Money Goes

To help Petra and Kim with their overwhelming medical bills, please click the big pink button at the top or bottom of this page www.indiegogo.com/readytobelieve that says "Contribute Now."

The first $100k raised goes to Petra's surgery, medical, and recovery costs.

The next $150k will be divided evenly between Kim's year-long cancer treatment (about $150k) and the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), a non-profit tasked by the Aurora Police Department to gather and distribute aid in response to the Aurora shooting. If they exceed their goal and after Kim's treatment needs are met, all additional money will go to COVA. For more information on COVA, go to www.coloradocrimevictims.org

More About Kim Anderson

Kim began her fight with cancer after her diagnosis in October of 2009. She has since then faced difficult obstacles with steadfast faith, exemplary strength, and an amazing resolve that is an inspiration to all who know her. Kim's cancer went into remission at the beginning of 2011. Unfortunately, eighteen months later, her stage-3 cancer is fighting back.

Kim is a loving mother to three children, and has poured into the community around her through speech and debate clubs, serving as a state and regional leader for a national speech and debate league. She's also written curriculum, taught debate classes, and coached a local speech and debate club. You can catch glimpses of Kim's heart and soul by visiting her website Mother-Lode at mother-lode.blogspot.com.

Reprints

More News in World