Laverne McGrath, Jacob Johns’ mother, spoke to reporters Oct. 13 outside the Rio Arriba County Courthouse. Credit: (Austin Fisher/Source NM)

Ignorance is bliss, they say. But it took a shocking event in my life to reveal the profundity of this statement.

I speak not to demean myself but to reflect on the broader human condition, particularly here in the United States, when it comes to the experience of being shot.

It was a phone call that changed everything. A friend of my son Jacob called to deliver a gut-wrenching message: “Jacob has been shot.”

The world around me blurred as my son’s life hung in the balance. “It was just one shot,” Cherise said, trying to console me.

In my ignorance, I thought that if the bullet missed his heart and spine, everything would be fine.

But reality had other plans.

My son had gone to New Mexico to work on climate actions with an organization he was passionate about, in preparation for the United Nations Conference of the Parties.

Little did I know that this trip would lead to a life-altering event.

Jacob had been asked to join a local Indigenous community in Española, New Mexico, on Sept. 28 for a prayer vigil to lead in meditation, song, and prayer. They were celebrating the delayed installation of an offensive statue. As the day unfolded, families gathered to eat, talk, and celebrate, but there were also those opposing the delay. Tragedy struck when evil entered and a single bullet shattered the tranquility.

The head doctor at the ICU began to educate me about gunshot wounds. He shattered my misconceptions and the false portrayals we see in the media. Every bullet wound is unique, and the damage caused by a bullet goes beyond a simple trajectory through the body.

The speed of a bullet entering the body inflicts damage, akin to the energy waves from an atomic bomb. The myth of a bullet remaining in one piece is dispelled; bullets often shatter on impact. Surgeons focus on repairing the damage, not retrieving bullet fragments, as attempting to do so could cause further harm.

Jacob endured multiple surgeries to address the extensive damage from that “just one bullet.” His spleen had to be removed, compromising his immune system. His lung collapsed, part of his stomach and liver had to be cauterized, and his pancreas was partially removed. The bullet had caused his stomach to stretch, injuring the attached pancreas.

He went through draining tubes, and every open wound, including surgical incisions and bullet entry points, had to be packed with medicated gauze.

This painful process continued for weeks.

The removal of Jacob’s spleen revealed additional challenges. His body’s reaction, an increase in white blood cell count and blood platelet count, was a normal response to losing the spleen.

He received vaccinations and dealt with infections and fluid pockets, causing his body to essentially attack itself.

Now, Jacob remains in a critical state. This experience has been a painful revelation of the stark reality behind “just one bullet.”

There is nothing “just” about it.

The collective social ignorance surrounding gunshot wounds must be transformed.

Understanding the profound and lasting impacts of a bullet, beyond the misrepresentations in the media, is a vital step toward change.

The story of Jacob’s struggle for recovery should serve as a stark reminder that the consequences of a single bullet are far from simple. It is my hope that sharing this story will shed light on the gravity of gun violence and ignite a collective effort to address this pressing issue.

Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge and awareness can save lives.

LaVerne McGrath is the mother of Jacob Johns. She writes from her experience following the recovery of her son who was shot in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico at a prayer event on Sept. 28, 2023.

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