THE EXPERIENCE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
ANDREW JAMES SPILKER
In September of 2009, I was accidentally shot with a .50 caliber black-powder rifle while on a hunting trip. The bullet went through my body and nicked the vena cava, which is the largest vein in the body, and hit my kidney. My oldest brother was on leave from Iraq and had received medic training at Fort Benning. His Army training kicked in and helped to save me. I was three hours out from the hospital. We were in a remote area of Flaming Gorge. The medics had to arrive before Salt Lake would send a helicopter. I remember the medic looked at me as if I was a goner! I was flown by Life-Flight to PCMC. I lost a kidney, some large intestine, and several transverse processes on my spine. I was very lucky! I had avoided paralysis or death by several millimeters. I was on life-support. I had gangrene in my back and lost a lot of muscle tissue. I was very ill. After about two weeks, my lungs failed. The surgeons tried an experimental procedure giving me a 5% chance of survival. I was placed on ECMO, an artificial heart/lung machine. This machine oxygenates the blood. The doctors consider me a medical miracle. My lungs healed after five days. They wrote up my case for the medical journals. I spent a month and a half in the PICU and another five weeks in the NTU. I had lost most of my muscle mass and my stomach and back was still open. They weren’t sure if I would be able to sit up. As soon as possible, I sat up and started standing and then walking one or two steps. It was so hard. I came home with a feeding tube, front and back wound vacs and a colostomy bag. I had to heal and rebuild. After several months, I started school in a wheel chair. It was hard letting people see me so skinny. I got stronger every day. When summer came, I went to scout camp and rock repelled with my colostomy bag. Later that summer, I had major surgery to reconnect my abdomen.
Today, I am blessed to be able to do most of what I could before. I am on the Davis Track team. I do pole vaulting and I cleared 11’6. I worked hard to catch up on school taking summer school and completing packets. I have finished my CNA (certified nursing assistant) and EMR (emergency medical responder).I think the medical staff at PCMC is great. I had a PICU nurse, Ian, who made a great impression on me. Ian took great care of me and shared his own struggles to recover from an illness. This motivated me to try hard to get better. I had a wonderful trauma surgeon Dr. Downey, a former military surgeon, who took a personal interest in my care and recovery. At one time, he told my mother that I should just be grateful to be alive. After watching me attack my recovery, he later said, “no limits” for this kid. I have learned that there is nothing that you can’t overcome if you stay positive, work hard, and remember what you want to accomplish. Through this experience, I learned that I want to have a career in medicine. I want to help people get better as I was helped to get my life back.
This is a submission for the 2012-2013 graduation scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation.