By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, email@example.com
Kingston Perez lies somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.
His eyes are partially open as if he is trying to wake up, but don’t be fooled, his mom says. He often sleeps like that.
Jennifer Perez sits quietly by her son’s hospital bed. Beside her is a table adorned with a collection of toys, including dinosaurs, his favorite. A stuffed animal is tucked into bed with him.
Kingston shouldn’t be here. He should be home playing with his toys and his little brothers and sisters. But on June 1, a gunshot struck him in the head, changing the course of his life.
Doctors at Riley Hospital for Children prepared George and Jennifer Perez for the worst. Chances of survival for their son were slim.
"There were many points throughout his course where we thought he would not make it,” said Dr. Amy Hanson, a pediatric intensive care unit fellow at Riley.
But three weeks after the shooting, Kingston is out of intensive care and continuing his recovery at Riley.
He has not spoken since the shooting, his dad said last week, but glimpses of the little boy’s personality shine through, according to Jennifer.
“His stubbornness is coming out full throttle,” she said, “and he still likes to rub my face with his hand.”
Last Monday, before he was moved out of the PICU, he worked with Play Doh in therapy and ate two bites of yogurt and ice cream, she said.
All of it is a far cry from the night he was rushed to Riley from the aptly named community of Hope, Indiana, because since that night, hope and faith have kept the family strong.
“They only gave us 48 hours in the beginning, and here he is making progress nonstop,” Jennifer said. “People who don’t believe in miracles better start believing.”
Riley neurosurgeon Dr. Laurie Ackerman operated on Kingston the night he came into the emergency department.
While it is too soon to know the true extent of his injuries, “he is making remarkable progress,” she agreed. “He’s awake, he’s interactive, and we’re quite excited.”
It was only due to the teamwork of emergency medical service workers, ED staff who stabilized him, anesthesiologists, blood bank staff, nursing, respiratory and support personnel that the boy is alive today, she said.
“They provided very critical emergency care that made it safe for us to proceed with an operation.”
That care continues post-surgery with intensive care physicians, respiratory therapists, nurses and rehabilitation staff taking over in the recovery process.
Still, she said she told the little boy’s parents, “This is a long game. Recovery from this type of injury plays out over weeks and months and is very much a team effort.”
George and Jennifer Perez say they are ready to do whatever it takes.
“Anything we can do to help him smile again,” George said. “We don’t need anything except for our son to make the best recovery he can possibly make.”
As of last week, Riley had already treated 23 children for gunshot wounds this year, a statistic that weighs heavily on staff, Dr. Ackerman said, adding it used to be a rare event.
“Everyone here cares deeply,” she said, taking the opportunity to reinforce Riley’s message to everyone in the community that safe storage of guns saves kids’ lives.
“We are the only country in the world where the leading cause of trauma death in children is gun violence,” she said.
The Safety Store within the Riley Hospital for Children Outpatient Center offers free gun locks for families.
For now, George Perez says he and his family are taking it one day at a time, grateful for the Riley team and for the outpouring of support from the people of Hope and the greater Indianapolis area.
“A lot of people are praying for his recovery, and it means the world.”