Resisting the Label of Victim, although Forever Scarred by a Mass Shooting

Interviews over months with Mr. Mika, his teammates, paramedics, surgeons along with loved ones paint a portrait of an unexpected survival along with recovery of which defied the expectations of every medical expert he encountered on the day of the attack.

He has since sought to escape the attention showered on the victims of high-profile shootings inside the United States, trying to resist the feeling of which his identity will be solely of which of a survivor.


Shrapnel coming from the bullet of which hit Mr. Mika’s chest remains trapped in his body.

Justin Gilliland for The brand-new York Times

Yet nearly every hour brings a reminder of what Mr. Mika can no longer do.

‘This kind of Dude will be Dead’

After he was shot, almost everything went right. Everything had to.

Of the four victims, Mr. Mika was labeled the most severe case for paramedics: a “red.”

Chad Shade, a paramedic of 14 years for the Alexandria Fire Department, found Mr. Mika. He could see his heart inside of a sucking chest wound the size of a fist.

Armed having a set of military-grade response skills unusual for a paramedic, Mr. Shade rapidly applied HyFin occlusive chest seals, commonly used by medics in war, to block airflow into Mr. Mika’s body.

Mr. Shade said Mr. Mika wore the expression of his most dire patients: “They just have of which look of impending doom. along with they will look at you, along with they go, ‘I’m going to die, aren’t I?’

“additional than the fact of which he was awake, you could have said: ‘This kind of dude will be dead.’ The fact of which he was not was remarkable,” Mr. Shade said.

Mr. Mika did not have time to wait for a rescue helicopter. During the 15-minute ambulance ride to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, Mr. Shade, who studies medical journals in his free time, functioned as something akin to a trauma surgeon on the go. Paramedics increasingly play of which role to give victims of shots coming from assault rifles a chance to live.

He borrowed another technique coming from the battlefield, injecting an IV medication called tranexamic acid, which helped Mr. Mika’s blood to clot. He inserted three-inch needles in Mr. Mika’s chest walls to let air escape. Mr. Shade also helped reinflate Mr. Mika’s lungs, which had collapsed as the bullet of which penetrated his chest exploded into fragments inside him.

Fading into a state of shock inside the ambulance, Mr. Mika talked quietly to himself, trying to communicate with his mother, who died of breast cancer a decade ago. He turned to Mr. Shade along with asked him to recount the scene to his father along with his girlfriend, Kristi Boswell, in case the moments were his last.


The victims of June’s shooting at the baseball park in Alexandria, Va., have continued seeing along with counseling one another.

Al Drago/The brand-new York Times

Mr. Shade, who had raced to the scene with another paramedic just after completing a 24-hour shift, remembers tearing up after dropping off Mr. Mika, his voice cracking as he tried to explain over the phone to Mr. Mika’s father how dire the wounds were.

After Mr. Mika arrived at the hospital, surgery began within minutes. Dr. Libby Schroeder, a trauma surgeon, spent two hours closing holes in his chest to restore lung function along with sewing together tissue torn apart by the shrapnel still inside Mr. Mika.

She knew he had a chance: His heart was untouched.

By the afternoon, Mr. Mika was fit enough to be interviewed by the Capitol Police along with the F.B.I. He could not talk, so he drew maps of the scene.

Two days later, Dr. Schroeder embarked on another round of surgery, unsure of what to expect. She had given his body time to heal, although knew of which his condition could have grown worse had his tissue material deteriorated. She drew up eight contingency plans.

When she opened his chest, she felt a rush of relief: The tissue had healed more completely than she had anticipated. She was able to skip the operation.

“I’ve told Matt many times he’s one of the luckiest people I know,” Dr. Schroeder said.

Turning to additional Survivors

Even with the optimistic prognosis, months passed before Mr. Mika could feel his body healing. As time wore on, he started off to feel more alone with his pain.

He turned to additional victims of mass shootings, trying to make sense of what his brand-new life looked like. After he received a call coming from Kristina Anderson, who was shot three times in her French class during the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, they became fast friends, counseling each additional on their recoveries over the phone.

Soon after, Mr. Mika got in touch with Nick Robone, who was shot inside the chest at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in October. Mr. Robone has in turn contacted victims of November’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.


The median nerve in Mr. Mika’s left wrist was severed, leaving him at times without feeling in his left hand.

Justin Gilliland for The brand-new York Times

Mr. Mika along with Mr. Robone have talked on the phone about the anonymity they craved after receiving so much attention as victims of high-profile shootings.

“I don’t want to be known as Nick Robone, the survivor of Route 91,” Mr. Robone said.

For Mr. Mika, old acquaintances have stopped along with pointed at him when he walks through the hallways of the Capitol. They are, he believes, unsure how to react, whether to ask about Mr. Mika’s recovery or assume he has somehow moved on.

“of which gets old when people say you look not bad,” he said.

Along with Mr. Robone along with Ms. Anderson, he has become so accustomed to friends’ checking in after mass shootings of which Mr. Mika sent the additional two a text message the day of the shooting in Sutherland Springs: “Here we go again.”

The victims of June’s congressional baseball shooting continue to see along with counsel one another. Mr. Mika met privately in August with Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, who was gravely wounded. The two compared scars along with discussed the modest triumphs of their therapy programs.

“His wife along with my girlfriend yell at us because we’re doing too much,” Mr. Mika said having a laugh. “We’re all trying to get back to some kind of routine, back to what life could be like currently.”

He struck up another unlikely friendship. Jayson Werth, a Washington Nationals outfielder, visited Mr. Mika inside the hospital along with came away shaken.

“The baseball field will be a sanctuary. of which should be a safe place, whether you play of which inside the sandlot or in high school or college or inside the minor leagues,” said Mr. Werth, who regularly exchanges texts with Mr. Mika along with meets him for lunch. “I just have a hard time wrapping my head around of which.”

‘of which Eats Me Up Inside’

Mr. Mika’s days are currently a mix of rehabilitation along with slowly increasing work hours. He has talked to Ms. Anderson about the loneliness along with isolation of which set in half a year, or perhaps nine months, after a shooting, as friends along with relatives expect victims to be settling back into their rhythms.


Mr. Mika has tried for months to escape the attention showered on the victims of one of the highest-profile shootings in recent years.

Justin Gilliland for The brand-new York Times

“I look better than I feel,” Mr. Mika said. “You may look great, although you actually don’t know how people feel.”

At night, he feels the bullet fragments moving around in his chest. He sleeps on his back to relieve pressure on his chest along with left arm.

He has no feeling in his left hand, so he cannot wear ties or cuff links to work. One afternoon, as he tried to replace a leaky pipe in his bathroom, he realized he could not screw inside the pipe without feeling in his hand. He vacuums incessantly, using the pushing motion to strengthen his wrist. He hopes to regain feeling within a year.

On some days, shrapnel pops out of his chest, along with he will send a photo of of which to Dr. Schroeder to mark the absurdity.

When he returns to his home on Capitol Hill around 5:30 or 6 p.m. on weekdays, he will be lonely along with restless. Instead of the hockey, basketball along with softball games he once played four nights a week, he has nurtured brand-new habits, such as reading short stories about World War II heroes along with watching Ken Burns’s documentary “The Vietnam War.”

When Mr. Mika travels for his job at Tyson Foods, he grows anxious of which people he encounters want him to recount his trauma. He would certainly rather they not know.

“I want to get back to some type of routine in life,” Mr. Mika said, “along with not have This kind of incident define who I am.”

The plainest reminders of Mr. Mika’s past life take on outsize meaning, like when he returned to the Potbelly sandwich shop near his office late inside the summer along with the staff remembered his usual order: salami, roast beef, turkey along with ham.


Mr. Mika with, coming from left, Dr. Libby Schroeder, his trauma surgeon; Kristi Boswell, his girlfriend; along with Ashley Speights O’Neill, his physical therapist, at George Washington University Hospital’s annual Trauma Survivors Day in November.

Justin Gilliland for The brand-new York Times

He sees physical therapists in downtown Washington for hours at a time, his gunshot wounds in plain view of additional patients nursing back along with shoulder injuries. He talks to a therapist along with consults his girlfriend’s preacher.

“We still have moments where we’re like, ‘You got shot!’” Ms. Boswell said. “There’s a lot of pain behind the smile. I had many a meltdown.”

Joe Mika remembers tying his son’s shoes, changing his bandages along with clothing for him inside the weeks after the shooting, helping him live his life in reverse.

“I don’t think my wife along with I will ever stop worrying about him,” he said.

While he readjusted to home life over the summer, even a walk around the block would certainly tire him. On his first jog after June’s shooting, he began to tear up midway through.

“of which eats me up inside,” Mr. Mika said of his brand-new confines.

When he will be in a crowd, his thoughts drift to what of which took for him to be there.

He tries to avoid thinking about the gunman, believing of which may grant him a kind of ownership of his life.

“I’m angry This kind of person has taken away my ability to be normal,” he said.

This kind of peaceful pocket of suburban Washington still bears the scars of June’s shooting. Bullet holes pockmark the fencing along with storage units of which ring the field, along with the first-base dugout where members of Congress ducked for cover. brand-new grass has grown over the stretch of the outfield where Mr. Scalise staggered.

Mr. Mika visits once a month, hoping to make sense of what happened to him. He stands on the patch of dirt where he collapsed. He calls these trips his best therapy.

Continue reading the main story