PARKLAND, Fla. — Maddy Wilford, a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teared up before speaking Monday at Broward Health North, the hospital where she was taken after being shot at least three times on February 14.
“I’d just like to say that I’m so grateful to be here, and it wouldn’t be possible without those officers and first responders and these amazing doctors,” said Wilford, who underwent several surgeries at the hospital and was released Wednesday.
With her long brown hair swept back from her face and wearing a team jacket and a cast on her left arm, Wilford noted “all the love that’s been passed around” and added, “I definitely wouldn’t be here without it. I’m glad I’m making a full recovery, and everything’s going so smoothly.”
At Monday’s news conference, the first responders and doctors at Broward North also recalled the Valentine’s Day shooting.
‘We were almost dumbfounded’
Lt. Laz Ojeda of Coral Springs Fire Department was one of the team of first responders who transported Wilford from the school to the hospital.
“That day started like any other day,” Ojeda said. “When the call came in, we were almost dumbfounded. We couldn’t believe it.”
They weren’t dispatched right away, so their captain took the initiative and sent Ojeda’s crew to the scene. There, he found the “organized chaos” in which he is accustomed to working.
When Wilford was brought to them, Ojeda said, they thought she was dead.
“She looked very pale,” he said. After another officer shook her, “I believe she gasped, or she moved. She made signs of life.”
The emergency meant the team was operating under a specific set of transportation rules, so he was supposed to take her to Broward General, 30 miles from the school. Broward North, though, was just 10 minutes away.
“I looked at her, I gave her a sternal rub, and I said, ‘Hey, how old are you?’ ” Wilford showed no response. He asked a second time, and she whispered that she was 17.
“We’re going to North Broward,” Ojeda redirected the crew. There, “I’ve never seen so many doctors, so many staff in the emergency room.”
Emotion was evident in his face and his voice as he explained: “We transferred her to a gurney, gave a report to the nurse, and we went back to work.”
At the hospital: ‘We were ready’
Dr. Evan Boyar, medical director of emergency services at Broward Health North, recalled the moment when Wilford arrived at his hospital: “It was a seamless process. Six months ago, we had an active shooter drill, to gear up for events like this. We were ready.”
Having called a “code green” — a mass-casualty event — Boyar knew that the trauma center would receive multiple patients at once. Still, the entire hospital was prepared to treat all patients “equally and swiftly.”
Wilford came under the care of Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, medical director of trauma services at the hospital. When she arrived, she was “pale and not responsive. She was in shock,” he said. He had little information but could see that she had “multiple gunshot wounds” to her chest, abdomen and upper sternum.
“Wounds in the chest were very severe, with massive bleeding,” Nichiporenko said. Emergency staff gave her blood, and when they found fluid in her abdomen, she was taken to the operating room within 10 minutes.
Nichiporenko had to perform “damage control,” amounting to extricating bullets and repairing damage, first in Wilford’s abdomen and then her chest and in the right upper extremity, where tendons had been “shattered from gunshot wounds.”
“Because we are a trauma center, we see these type of injuries almost every other day,” he said of her bullet wounds. However, most gunshot injuries he sees are from small-caliber bullets, yet Wilford’s injuries were caused by large caliber.
“There’s a blast injury associated with larger caliber,” he explained. “When the bullet travels through soft tissue, it creates shock waves,” and this causes more tissue damage than smaller-caliber bullets do.
“She still has fragments inside,” Nichiporenko said, yet “her chest and abdomen are completely healed.” Her “right upper extremity needs four to six weeks to heal” due to tendon damage, and after that, she will require occupational therapy. Still, he expects a full recovery for the young basketball player.
Asked whether Ojeda’s call to take her to Broward North instead of the more distant hospital saved Wilford’s life, Nichiporenko said, simply, “yes, of course.”
“Her hospital stay was less than seven days,” Nichiporenko said. “Young people have a tendency to heal very fast. She’s very, very lucky.”
Her parents echoed that thought and expressed their gratitude to the first responders and hospital staff.
A ‘very grateful’ family
Maddy’s father, David Wilford, said, “I am very grateful to be sitting here next to my daughter, who is alive and well today.
“There’s a lot of people to thank for Maddy’s life,” he said, adding that he has “a lot of sympathy and empathy for her classmates” and for the parents of the children who didn’t make it.
Missy Wilford, Maddy’s mother, said, “I too am very grateful to be sitting here today. … My heart is full of gratitude.”
She described her daughter as “a fighter” who wants to heal.
“Yes, it is a tragedy, but I would like to find a way to find a positive in what has happened here in our community,” said Missy Wilford, who recognized “the power of prayer” and the outpouring of concern from both those she knows and those she does not. “I may not have met you, but your prayers were felt. You cannot see them, but you can feel them.”