As the triage officer at the scene of the Thurston High School shooting, Paramedic Captain Mike Hackett had to make snap judgments regarding gravely injured children. Hackett says he was haunted by the decision he made regarding 16-year-old Teresa Miltonberger, the second casualty he saw. Here ,for the first time, Hackett speaks on the record about his decision, how it affected him, and how he's dealing with the aftermath.
"I went to the young girl (Teresa Miltonberger) who was shot in the forehead. She was not breathing. There was a teacher who'd been doing mouth-to-mouth on her the whole time and never gave up. I looked at her and knew that her wound would probably be fatal. It was just straight into the forehead. I looked at that girl, and all I saw was my own daughter. I thought, 'Okay, I've gotta make a decision here. I still have 18 or 20 more kids in here that need to be triaged and treated.' This girl had been well oxygenated by the teacher, so I ordered the heart monitor. We put and EKG on her and she had a rate of about 40. It didn't look good, but I thought, what would I want done if this was my daughter? I made the decision that she would be treated and transported next. The crew loaded her up and took her in.
"It was a decision that really haunted me because I kept thinking, 'Did I put undue emotional stress on this family by making that decision? Should I have let her lie there and die in peace?' There were so many things going through my mind. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I went and talked to her mom, and she said, 'You made that decision as a parent. You didn't make that decision as a paramedic.' I think she was right. I think I did. I looked at that girl and I made a decision as a parent that she was going to be treated and transported regardless.
"She has survived so far. In fact, she's been walking a little, talking, she's been able to write her name. Still don't know what the prognosis is, but the family says that she's alive and that's what's important.
"Every drill, we say, 'This patient, we'd write 'em off,' because of how serious their wounds are. But I'll tell you, real life's a whole different world.
"I think the support of the crews who were actually there and who understand has really helped. We all have the same feelings and the same emotions. The guys who weren't there, I don't really think they understand the emotions of the guys who were. So the support from the crews has helped tremendously. The support from my family, my wife and my kids, has been wonderful. My faith in Christ has been a big support.
"I had the opportunity to talk to quite a few people from Paducah, Pearl, Jonesboro, and some of those other places. They're six months into it, a year into it, and they said, 'Time does heal, it does get better. It doesn't go away, but it does get better. You're probably always going to have the feelings you have.' It was nice to be able to talk to guys who really know how I feel, know what I've been through.
"I think a good example would be when a parent loses a child. We all, having children, sympathize with those people, but I don't think we truly understand it. I think the people who've actually lost a child are the only ones who can truly understand it. I think it's the same kind of situation. I think that guys feel for you and try to understand, but they really don't unless they've been through something like that."
Teresa Miltonberger was initially given a 10-20 percent chance of survival. As of June , 1998, she was able to walk with support and speak clearly and strongly, albeit in a whisper. She had no recollection of the incident and had to wear a helmet to protect her still-damaged skull. Doctors were guardedly optimistic about her long-term recovery. Mike Hackett had returned to duty in Springfield.
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