January 14th, 2011
07:38 AM ET

Tucson: Heroes amidst the horror

At University Medical Center in Tucson, four patients remain in the hospital. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now the only one in critical condition.

Outside, there is a constantly busy makeshift memorial, even in the middle of the night. Television and newspaper reporters are buzzing around, trying to satisfy the appetite of a curious public. There is so much attention on these four patients, that it was somewhat surprising that they hardly know it. Most of them have cut themselves off and barely watched any news reports, or even visited with other victims down the hall.

I was allowed to meet with the patients at UMC, as they decided to speak for the very first time. It became clear within moments that as much as I wanted to record their stories, they needed – they wanted to talk even more.

Ron Barber was the first patient I met. Kindly, softspoken, he welcomed me in with a smile and introduced me to his wife, Nancy. For 40 years, Ron had worked as an advocate for those with developmental disabilities, and he had retired before coming to work as a staff member for Congresswoman Giffords.

It was jarring when he started to describe the horrible scene that unfolded. He heard the noise and saw Giffords take a bullet in the head. As he spun around toward the shooter, he also was shot, first in the face and then in the leg.

He slumped to the ground and found himself lying right next to Giffords, who had her back to him. As he struggled to make sense of it all, suddenly their colleague, Gabe Zimmerman, fell face-first right between them. “He was so still,” he told me. “I knew he was dead.”

Nearly delirious, Barber started reaching for his Blackberry so he could “call Gabby’s parents,” he said, oblivious to the fact that he was bleeding to death from a torn femoral artery in his leg. Suddenly a woman named Anna – Anna Ballis he would learn later - was there using her bare hands to stop the blood loss, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez cradling Gifford’s head.

“Heroes amidst the horror,” I said softly. He nodded and seemed a little choked up. “Anna came to visit me today,” he said with a genuine smile.

Captain Mark Kelly was in Houston when Pia Carusone, Gifford’s chief of staff, called him and told him he needed to get to Tucson. A Navy pilot and astronaut, Captain Kelly had access to a fast plane and arrived at the hospital just as his wife emerged from surgery.

He met with Dr. Michael Lemole and Dr. Peter Rhee and learned for the first time the details of what had happened to his wife. Rhee was very optimistic that Giffords would survive, while Lemole had an obligation to take a more “long-term view of the future,” as he described it to me. “I do think about her neurological function, and it is just too early to tell what that will be,” he added.

“Did she know the president of the United States visited her last night?” I asked Captain Kelly.  He paused and said, “Yes, I think she did know… though, I think she was trying to figure out what he was doing there.”

And, there was the eye opening. Captain Kelly doesn’t strike me as a man who would use the term “miracle” off the cuff. Yet, it was exactly how he described the moment his wife opened her eyes in the presence of old friends. She had reached out with her left hand and sort of stroked his face, he said. “At first I thought she was trying to strangle me,” he joked. And then she opened her eyes. “It was miraculous.”

“We are wise to acknowledge miracles,” Lemole said Thursday. I asked him about it later, and he smiled. “Some people don’t believe that, and may even ridicule it.”

“I won't,” I said.

soundoff (153 Responses)
  1. TomC

    I'm going to remove CNN News from my smartphone, since you wouldn't allow me to comment on the Russian Journalist at the White House press briefing. Thanks for showing your true liberal roots CNN.

    January 14, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. jude

    Dear Citizens, after reading some these comments – I cannot believe that you have time to criticize anyone. I am not a Gifford supporter any more than some of you are not a Palin supporter, (Which I am; I’m a Sarah Palin supporter ALL THE WAY, ). However, at a time like this; we put all that aside and pray; (Just like Sarah Palin is doing); – WE pray for Congress woman Gifford for her recovery, we pray for ALL the wounded to be recovering, as well. We pray for the families ALL that are hurting due to this tragedy. We also pray for the parents of the young fellow who is accused of doing the shooting.
    I’m sure they are really really hurting; and they need our prayers and support. Do you all forget – People are hurting and we stand with them and really pray that Our Father, our creator tells us "Pray one for another" and WE Trust God, we put all these souls in his care. PLEASE – Wake up; – and be GOOD U S A CITIZENS. As for the MEDIA – Regardless, if you agree; or disagree; leave them alone; they are trying to do their best. – NO MORE BICKERING P L E A S E

    January 14, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lots of time

      it really is different reality for each person

      I have lots of time for random things like this blog

      But my friends are CRAZY busy with their jobs... if you can get it, my work is not bad

      January 14, 2011 at 16:17 | Report abuse |
  3. where do I send the $$$

    I've got piles of it, stacked up in the house... I am currently using the 1$ stacks for keeping warm burning them in the fire place but I've got lots more

    where should I ship to?

    January 14, 2011 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jeff Edgmon

    We seem to find enough money to do stupid things, such as going into Iraq, why can't we provide Secret Service protection for all members of Congress and the Senate? We can't allow lone nut cases to have the ability to shutdown our government for a week or more everytime they decide to go psycho, and take out their problems on innocent people. The legislators need to be protected, so they can go about doing their jobs, without being in fear for their safety and well being.

    Secondly, even if there was 20 guns there, chances are it wouldn't have made a difference, because by the time you determine who the bad guy is, make sure your bullets are only going to go into (1) target, the bad guy, and nothing else, the bad guy would have already gotten off many shots, because he was firing indiscriminately at everyone, and didn't care whether he got shot or not.

    Thirdly, I also don't think gun control measures would have done anything to prevent this. How hard is it to pick up a newspaper and buy a gun from an individual who doesn't have the capability, time, or desire to run a background check? And if you have been trained properly with a knife, you can kill just as easily with that, as with anything else. Same with a bow and arrow, same with many different weapons. Granted a firearm often does kill many more than the others.

    Finally, the problem is society, once labeled to have problems or mental illnesses, society doesn't encourage people to get help, in fact, how many times do you hear jokes in regards to mental illnesses? How many times are people prevented from getting decent employment because of a mental illness? People aren't dumb, they may be mentally ill, but they're smart enough to know that if they tell the world they have a problem that needs to be worked on, they will be deemed from that point on to be crazy, as such, will not be allowed to have the same rights as other citizens. Mental illness should be like every other illness, if you're sick, you should be able to get help. Unfortunately due to societal streotypes and prejudices, many people never get any help, as such, innocent people get hurt when the 1-2 % of them get completely violent.

    January 14, 2011 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. FedUpInSeattle

    It’s hard to make this point without those on the staunch left making this out to be insensitive towards Gifford’s, but here I go. Number one, if I lived in her district, learning everything that I have on the news about her Blue Dog Democrat stances, I would have voted for her prior to supporting the Health Bill vote. As an Independent that leans conservative on fiscal issues I wonder what the coverage would have been had this been a Republican House Member. I for one, besides the Health Bill issue, like everything I have heard about Gifford’s record. She obvious is an amazing person even outside of politics. BUT again I wonder if the coverage would have been so overwhelming had she not been a Democrat. The republican federal judge who was KILLED barely got a blip on the news, did I mention he was KILLED. I can tell you everything ever publically known about Gifford’s but if you were to ask about Judge Roll I could tell you anything about him I learned on the news. If you were from outer space the story line you would hear is “DEMOCRAT shot and some guy I think he was a judge or something killed by Republican Crazy who was brainwashed by Talk Radio host and failed Vice Presidential candidate.”

    January 14, 2011 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Terre

    "When evil things happen in this world, why do we blame God? God is love, and is responsible for all the good things that happen in this life. There is far more good than evil. Evil things? Blame the one who brought evil into the word and continues to destroy and cause all kinds of bad things to happen. Don"t believe in Satan? Think again. It will continue until the end of time."

    Well you Christians seem to thank God whenever good things happen why not blame him when bad things happen?

    January 14, 2011 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy

      Did you read what I wrote? God is not to blame when evil things happen. When evil happens, God often turns it into good. Evil is from Satan, and he loves what you have written. We follow evil rather than good. He loves it when we blame and hate God. Still, God loves us, even when we blame HIm.

      January 14, 2011 at 18:19 | Report abuse |
    • Justamom

      Would you like a specific, personal explanation? I can tell you why I don't blame God. My 4 yr-old was born with a severe birth defect that kills roughly half of those affected. (No known cause to date.) She survived and is thriving despite having some ongoing medical challenges. Nothing lifethreatening now, I'm glad to say. Life is definitely not easy, though. I don't blame God. I blame the fact that this world is fallen, and so the ruling force most of the time is natural laws. I thank God, however, because for whatever reason, I believe He intervened to save my daughter, and life is definitely better with her here. Between 22 and 23 weeks (literally, one week), my daughter's affected lung inexplicibly grew, more than quadrupling in size. Not what typically happens, not a bad songram issue, not a bad doc (best perinatologist in town). Because of that single moment, which cannot be explained, she survived and leads a pretty normal life despite some of those medical issues.

      Now, I do not think God saved my daughter because I'm some great Christian. I'm not, I'm pretty flawed. I don't think that God didn't save my friend's child with another fatal condition because they did something wrong–if I were to judge between us, I'd say she is the better person and better Christian. I've had my "why" questions, and I believe that God is so beyond my understanding, that the only answer to "why" is because He loves us and has a plan for all of us. God isn't a finite human being, He sees every moment in time that leads out from a single event–not just within our lifetimes, but to the end of time. We will never understand the "whys" in this life, although we may get glimpses now and then. It doesn't make evil any less painful or any less evil. I believe God has given us means for comfort and means to overcome evil ourselves in many ways. "We mourn, but we do not mourn as one who has no hope."

      January 14, 2011 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
  7. Maryland

    If he was shot in the face, as the article states, just where in the face was he shot? Hard to tell from the picture. The band aid could cover a BB shot wound I guess, but not a 9mm round.

    January 14, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. B.A. Barrakas

    What can I say? there are alot of "crazies" in this world. it could be your neighbor or bestfriend and you wouldnt even know it. i guess it was said the best,"keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

    January 14, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. vladimir

    can someone please tell all these people to stop being hypocrites? look at your neighborhood and your own household thats where you can start to fix what has become of our society

    January 14, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. dosky

    Good gracious God! I appreciate all the love and care shown to the victims. The recovery of Gifford is indeed miraculous and i hope and pray she returns such favours to whoever might need them someday,somehow. For Capt. kelly u sure are favoured. Giving ur wife a support needed at a precious moment; a real faith booster and encouragement to cling to life. God bless America and Americans!

    January 14, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Clare Z

    It would have been a real miracle if the crowd faced the gunman and none of the bullets met their mark. What you are seeing is a fortunate outcome, after an unfortunate event. Not a miracle. But still to be appreciated and celebrated.

    January 14, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jhamal G.

    Well in the case of Tragedy in Tucson, I think that there need to some accountability taking here, as far as the Wal-Mart that he walk into the first time asking to purchase ammo but got denied goes, a alert or red flag should have when out to all other Wal-Mart stores to notify the staff and authorities!

    January 14, 2011 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. fred guisse

    Heroes amid the horror. Wearing not a name tag of liberal or conservative. A 9 year old child, there of an interest piqued by political service. I hope we all gain something from this. I realistically doubt it, but I hope.

    January 14, 2011 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. John Houston

    Where is John McCain during all this? Isn't he the senior member of Congress from Arizona? Where was he during that memorial service? Where's the 'Country First' leadership he pushed so hard just two years ago? Where's the Maverick? He should have been front and center during all the mourning for this massacre in his home state. How can he hide from public view when his state is in the spotlight?

    January 14, 2011 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Justamom

      He hasn't been hiding, he's been making statements since the beginning. As to the Memorial service, perhaps he didn't want to possibly politicize the event. Our state's leadership was already represented by Jan Brewer.

      January 14, 2011 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
    • Tam

      He was in the second row.

      Totally off the mark here, but - he's the one who unleashed the imbecile from the north upon us, and now she won't go away.

      January 14, 2011 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
  15. Tam

    Just wondering about the hospital costs for those wounded. Are they all covered fully?

    January 14, 2011 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dawn

    Dr. Gupta, Have you considered that the young man was sleep deprived and that contributed heavily to his psychosis? He wasn't comfortable at home...stayed online all the time....and practiced lucid dreaming. He was up all night the night before the crime spree and seemingly was good at working himself into a frenzy...couldn't even get comfortable enough to sleep at the motel. I used to have a lot of problems with depression and bipolar like symptoms, till my doctor told me to "Get some sleep!" I would stay up all night and couldn't easily fall asleep, it was terrible, but now, I have a nighttime routine and am balanced and doing great. I don't think most people think about this contributing so heavily to psychosis.

    January 14, 2011 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. nogods

    @Nancy – Is God all powerful or not? Is He less powerful than Satan? If not, why can't He stop the evil? You can't have it both ways.

    January 15, 2011 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy

      Yes, I can. Yes, God is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. He created a perfect world, but we are not robots. He created angels, but they aren't robots either. Some fell away from God, including Satan. And God does not control them. They are not robots, and they are evil. They hate God and would prefer that none of us belong to God. So they create havoc in the world and hope that we will blame God. We have choices. All creation groans (fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, murders) because of the sin our world. Heaven will be perfect. Satan is not allowed there.
      P. S. If you had a bad car accident and someone was killed, would you blame your father? Just an example.

      January 15, 2011 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
  18. Maria

    Unfortunately tragedies like this one happen because people have a free will- they can choose to do good or choose to do bad things.God cannot take away our free will, but what He can do is to turn the evil we do into good.His Justice is Perfect and He wants the best for us.

    January 15, 2011 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. max

    gupta gives generalizations when it come s to facts he's wrong 6 out of ten times and cnn still backs the doc on their site, get someone without stars in their eye's

    January 15, 2011 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. justanothermd

    Dr. Gupta, please stop getting free ride on other peoples' misery.

    January 15, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. nogods

    @Nancy – So, God is all-powerful. He could stop the evil, but He doesn't. If He cannot stop evil, He is not all-powerful. He allows suffering until we get to Heaven. Is there free will in Heaven? If so, why can't we have peace here on Earth. This is all very nonsensical.

    Your analogy about the car accident is very strange. If my father caused the accident by driving drunk or breaking another law, yes I would blame him. If he had the power to stop the accident and didn't, I would also blame him.

    January 15, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy

      To each his own, Buddy. I can't convince you.
      Oh, and there is no peace on earth. The peace spoken of is peace between God and man, which He gives us.

      January 15, 2011 at 19:35 | Report abuse |
    • Nancy

      Addendum: If God stopped the car accident, He would be controlling us and our actions. That He does not do. As I said before, we are not robots. He does however, fix the result. He forgives our actions (sin) through Jesus Christ.

      January 16, 2011 at 17:47 | Report abuse |
  22. pat

    If I were to ever get shot in the head I would hope that my story would last for weeks even months in the media. I'd probably need all the prayers I could get. I'm praying for you Gabby!!

    January 15, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Admonition

    my first comment second before this one didn't post? it just disappeared.

    January 16, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tensai13

    The victims of this horrible tragedy are the best of America and it is hard to watch without tears the interviews of the beautiful family who lost their precious little girl. This tragedy was the result of a perfect storm of a sustained hostile and hyper-partisan political atmosphere pervading our civil life at all levels, a gross failure of our health care system that is run for obscene levels of private profits and even worse, a health care system that further profits by reducing access to health care when it is most needed as in mental health treatment., and also the absurdly easy access to firearms in America.
    No doubt, each lobby or interest group will spin the situation to their advantage. The right wingnuts will deny any responsibility for their venomous and treasonous onslaught on the Obama administration, the NRA will trot out their brain dead mantas "Guns don't kill people....." and the Psychiatrists will no doubt say " this is solely due to a lack of mental health care provision" in order to bolster their own importance and funding. Denying the role played by any of these three factors is like having a color TV where only the red, or only the red and blue color tubes are working – you need all three to see the true picture!

    January 16, 2011 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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