Using her story to help others in need

Teen shooting victim spends her time getting the word out about the importance of donating blood to save lives.

July 22, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

The words engraved on the front and back of Katie Weyer's silver bracelet mean little to anyone but emergency room workers and the paramedics that whisk trauma patients to hospitals every day.

They form a permanent hospital bracelet, of sorts. They also tell the life story of a Howard County teenager who should be too young to have such a story to tell.

But should Katie ever face death again, these acronyms and words might save her: Meds-Advair. NKDA. No MRI. Post GSW trauma. Lungs right paralysis diaphragm. Right sub-clavian blood clot.

These codes warn doctors and nurses of the lifelong injuries inflicted on Katie when an acquaintance accidentally shot her with his father's gun in his Woodbine home one year ago this month.

Katie Weyer, 17, of Dayton, and her mother, Susan, 43, are beginning to publicly share these warnings, using their story to promote gun safety and blood donations as spokeswomen for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac region of the American Red Cross.

Katie, a recent graduate of Glenelg High School, has recorded automated voicemail messages that remind blood donors of their appointments or announce a drive.

Her mother, an obstetrics nurse, leaves thank-you messages a few days later. And they both speak at news conferences and donor-appreciation events to illustrate how blood saves lives.

"People expect the Red Cross to say, `We need blood. We need donors,' " said Tracy Laubach, the nonprofit's regional marketing director. "But then they hear someone like Katie, who is beautiful and whose story is so recent. It makes it real for people. It makes them understand how they're helping and who they may help."

Katie spent a little more than two months recovering at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. During her few hours in the operating room, doctors injected 12 pints of red blood cells, six pints of plasma, and seven pints of platelets into her body, according to the Red Cross.

Shock Trauma ran out of Katie's A-negative blood type, which is found in 6 percent of the world population.

During a recent hearing in which her shooter, Benjamin Allen, 19, was sentenced to 11 weeks in jail and 3,000 hours of community service, Katie told the judge that doctors had to pump A-positive blood into her instead, which could complicate a future pregnancy.

It is a worry that Katie's family does not wish on anyone. So they have organized two blood drives at their church, Linden Linthicum United Methodist, and a third is scheduled for January.

"This past time, I was calling people up begging them to do it," Susan Weyer said.

Largely at Susan's encouragement, Katie has committed herself to these drives because she knows that without blood donors, she would not be alive today. The family loves to repeat a quote from Dr. James O'Connor, Katie's cardiac surgeon at Shock Trauma: "You are the closest to a dead person I have ever seen walk out of this place."

"Her recovery is extraordinarily rare," said Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Shock Trauma, who worked side-by-side with O'Connor to resuscitate Katie. "When she was bleeding and in cardiac arrest, I would put her mortality rate at 99.9 percent. She went without a reportable blood pressure for 15 minutes."

Katie will begin her freshman year at Howard County Community College this fall and plans to get a small tattoo the day she turns 18, despite her mother's objections.

But the bracelet is a necessary reminder of her not-so-normal struggle to walk again, to eat again and to laugh again during the past year.

Should she ever find herself back in the hospital, the bracelet would explain that metal wires and bullet fragments in her body would interfere with computers that scan her tissues and organs. It would also alert medical personnel about using Advair, which prevents asthma attacks, and her partial diaphragm paralysis would explain any breathing difficulties.

This bracelet will encircle her wrist for the rest of her life.

To donate blood to the Red Cross: 800-272-2123 (GIVE-LIFE).

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