Wounded officer cheated death

Staff WriterNovember 3, 2009 

  • Damon Youmans is the only Durham police officer shot in the line of duty this year.

    In 2007, 89 North Carolina police officers were assaulted with a firearm, according to the most recent complete numbers from the FBI.

    Although officers receive training to minimize shock after they have been shot, counseling is key to mental recovery, said Vivian Lord, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at UNC Charlotte.

    "If the officer does not receive counseling, does not receive sufficient support from people he can talk to and understand what he's going through, he might experience long-term, destructive-type of coping mechanisms," she said.

    An outside company provides counseling to Durham officers and their families at any time, but a psychiatric evaluation is not required before an injured officer returns to duty, Durham Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr. said. Counselors were on hand to talk with Youmans after he was shot and to officers visiting him at the hospital.

— Damon Youmans could have died July 2.

If his fellow officers had not rushed him to a waiting ambulance, he would have died.

If he had been taken to a community hospital instead of a trauma center, he would have died.

The Durham police rookie's injuries were so severe that his father packed his black suit for the trip from New York City.

Gregory S. Georgiade, the surgeon who led the team that saved Youmans' life, said his father would have needed that suit had several factors not come together.

"It was not his night to die," he said.

Youmans, 32, and his training officer, Cpl. B.D. Schnee, were heading to the Durham County jail when an officer radioed shots fired in the Shannon Road area.

It was 4 a.m.

Inside an apartment on Shannon Road, CynthiaBridges, 47, was preparing for work when she heard the first shots. She dropped to the floor and called 911. Her sons, ages 23 and 24, her 29-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old granddaughter were asleep.

More shots were heard on a 911 recording as Bridges pleaded with emergency dispatchers for help. It sounded like machine gun fire, she later said.

All was quiet when Youmans and Schnee arrived.

Youmans got out of the patrol vehicle and walked to the apartment's windowless steel front door. He knocked. A pop was heard, right before a bullet came through the door. It hit Youmans right under his belly button, just below his bulletproof vest.

"I knew something was wrong," he said. "It wasn't instant pain, but it was instant burning."

He stumbled back toward the police car. He fell to the ground before fellow officers pulled him to safety.

Stay calm, don't panic, he thought. Confident that doctors would save him, he didn't think about dying.

"I guess believing that helped play a part in me being here," he said.

Trauma alert

Georgiade's pager went off just after 4 a.m. It was a trauma alert 1 - a gunshot wound to the head, chest or stomach.

Georgiade, the senior surgeon, immediately assessed the challenge before him.

"His belly was filling up with blood in front of our eyes," the surgeon said.

The bullet had ripped through two sections of Youmans' small intestine and damaged the major veins that run between his pelvis and legs. His heart was racing, pushing itself to pump what little blood he had left.

As he lay on the emergency room table, questions came quickly: Do you know what happened? Do you know who you are? Can you feel this?

He felt everything, from the needles to the cold metal board placed under his back while doctors made quickX-rays. Within 10 minutes, he was out of the emergency room and on his way to the operating room.

Emergency surgery

When Georgiade opened Youmans up, the bullet's damage became evident.

"His abdomen was growing in size in front of our eyes," he said. "His abdomen was tight so when you open it up the blood runs out. It's a veryvisual experience. Then you have to figure out what's bleeding the worst."

His pelvic bone stopped the bullet; it's still there.

The biggest problem was the damage to the vein running from his pelvis to his legs. Then the vessels that supply blood to the small intestine had to be fixed. The small intestine was next.

The surgery team - three doctors, three nurses, about four anesthesia providers and two runners who retrieved blood and lab work - used about 60 units of blood on Youmans. A human normally has 10 units.

It was two days later when Youmans woke up.

A close call

"If I lingered in the ER, he would be dead," the surgeon said. "If I didn't have the resources I needed ready to go he would be dead. If I didn't have the blood that I needed to resituate him continuously he would be dead. If I didn't have the necessary help it takes or the multidisciplinary team itself, or the instruments it takes to stop the bleeding, he'd be dead. All those pieces have to be [there]."

Surgery lasted about three hours. A second surgery the next day repaired the bullet's damage to the intestine and put it back together. Youmans will have permanent slight swelling to his left leg, because of the vein damage.

Another similar injury might prove fatal.

"We see some repeat offenders in the gang business," the doctor said. "If he had been shot before, he'd be dead. I would never have been able to get it open and fixed in time."

Months of recovery

Hundreds flocked to him in the hospital: current and former co-workers, family, friends, a group of retired New York City police officers who live in Raleigh (Youmans was a New York City officer for five years). He was thankful for the love, but it tired him out. He was discharged from Duke Hospital on July17.

His home routine was simple. Walk. Sleep. Walk. Sleep. Slowly he regained his appetite. He started physical therapy about a week later.

The warm early afternoon three weeks ago matched Youmans' mood. It was the first time he sported his badge and gun since being shot.

Earlier that day he had attended a bond hearing for Thomas Rashawn Monroe, 23, who is charged with firing the shot that struck Youmans. Monroe lives in the apartment from which the bullets were fired. Monroe's family says that someone fired several shots into the apartment before police arrived and that Monroe was shooting in self-defense because he thought the shooters might be at the door.

Youmans' recovery continues. Getting out of bed used to be painful. Now he only has slight pelvis pain, along with a will to live and a greater appreciation for life and others.

"It's a situation where you take and learn from it, and it will probably change the way I do things," he said. "Appreciate the danger of the job and what could happen. And how I look at people. People all over the place were supportive. A lot of people really do care and appreciate the job that we do. That for me was definitely a big change."

stan.chambers@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2025

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