Four-year-old Quantae Maurice "Pookie" Johnson, who has a bullet lodged in his head, won't be going home today from Johns Hopkins Hospital, but he was being released from the pediatric intensive care unit.
Quantae was struck Saturday night by an errant bullet meant for a teen-age resident of the house next door to Quantae's grandmother's home in the 600 block of N. Castle St.
Yesterday, Quantae's big, bright eyes were shining as he rested in his seventh-floor hospital room surrounded by balloons featuring Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Quantae, still listed in serious but stable condition today, has lost some movement on the left side of his face, a condition doctors hope is temporary.
"There's no severe brain damage," said Dr. David G. Nichols, director of the pediatrics unit, at a news conference yesterday. "It's really a miracle that [facial weakness) is the only thing he's left with.
"He's extremely fortunate. The bullet injured the brain in an area which avoided major structural pathways, such as speech and movement, and it did not track across multiple compartments in the brain, which is a factor that is likely to lead to increased destructiveness of the brain."
Surgeons will decide if the bullet should be removed, but meanwhile, it doesn't pose any danger to Quantae, Nichols said.
When the wounded boy was admitted to the Hopkins Children's Center, he was losing consciousness, so doctors installed a breathing tube in his windpipe, Nichols said.
The tube has since been removed, and Quantae is expected to recover fully, doctors said. But they will continue to monitor him for seizures and any brain swelling, which could cut off blood supply to the brain, Nichols said.
He said the bullet entered the right side of Quantae's head and lodged under the scalp.
A few more inches lower and Quantae could have been killed, Nichols said. The physician said Quantae would be released from the ICU today into a children's ward.
Despite all the attention of doctors and nurses, Quantae is the typical 4-year-old, Nichols said.
"He's talking," said Nichols. "He's identified the various Ninja Turtles."
On Saturday night, it wasn't certain if Quantae would talk again.
A stray bullet fired through an open front window struck him in the forehead as he stood in his grandmother's dining room in East Baltimore.
Police said the bullet was meant for a teen-ager next door who had become involved in a dispute with teen-agers on nearby Jefferson Street.
Because the father of the teen-age neighbor feared violence, he warned parents on Castle Street to get their off the street. Quantae's grandmother, Diane Pittman, immediately brought him inside.
So far, no one has been arrested in the shooting, police said.
In Quantae's hospital room yesterday, his mother, Carmelita Allen, 19, and a friend stood in the midst of all the news reporters who were showering attention on her son.
Asked if he would like to be on television news, Quantae shook his head no.
Earlier, his mother said, he wanted to go home and get a soda.
Allen said she doesn't think Quantae remembers being shot.
Moments after the shooting, when his grandmother saw blood running down his face and asked how he was, Quantae replied "fine," his mother said.
When Allen learned of the shooting, she said, she thought her only son was dead.
Allen and Nichols said guns should be banned to get them away from drug dealers and other criminals. That way, innocent children would be less likely to be caught in any cross-fire, they said.
"My 4-year-old son shouldn't have to be fighting for his life," especially since he was inside the house at the time of the shooting, Allen said.
Allen said she's considering moving to a safer place, but realizes there's no area safe from violence.
The issue of violence is a societal one, said Dennis Hill, a police spokesman.
"The basic problem is the availability of guns and the lack of respect for human life," Hill said.
Hill said guns are usually borrowed, stolen or purchased cheaply on the streets, partly because of the drug trade.
When young people carry guns, they frequently don't hesitate to use them, Hill said.
This summer, a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old girl were killed in separate shootings. An 8-year-old girl was wounded.
Six weeks ago, a woman cleaning in a shop in East Baltimore was seriously wounded when an altercation outside led to gunfire, Hill said.
"It's particularly tragic to see uninvolved people to be affected by this," Hill said.
So far this year, 202 people have been killed in Baltimore, compared with 203 at the same time last year, Hill said.
Since December, the police commissioner has urged the public to call 911 and report people carrying illegal weapons. Hill said 150 guns have been recovered as a result of these tips.