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For Some Gunshot Victims, Healing Comes At A High Price

K'Anthony Tyus and his Grandmother Ernestine Tyus pose outside their home
K'Anthony Tyus and his Grandmother Ernestine Tyus

K’Anthony Tyus was on his bike in Ballard Park when bullets flew towards him from a car window. He tried to stand afterwards but couldn’t – his femur bone was shattered. He was 9 years old. Thankfully, K’Anthony survived. But then his family says they received a $20,000 hospital bill — even though they had health insurance.

“When he got hurt, I was working," Ernerstine Tyus, K’Anthony’s grandmother, said. "But I wasn’t able to pay none of that. If you don’t have any kind of medical insurance, I couldn’t see anyone trying to pay that kind of money back to the hospital for something like this.”

Every year there are hundreds of people in Louisville, like K'Anthony, who are injured by firearms and then saddled with steep medical bills. Onestudy by the Urban Institute found Kentucky spent $3.7 million on care for gunshot victims in 2014.

But all wounds don't heal once patients leave the hospital.

Emotional and psychological trauma often scar victims and their families, sometimes provoking them to get revenge. Community Health Advocate K.J. Field’s job is to stop that, but he said it's not easy.

“You have individuals that have gotten shot one time and they walk out of here and they’re fine. But you also have individuals that are shot one time, and they’re not ever going to walk again,” Fields said. “It definitely could’ve been my cousin. Could’ve been me. Could’ve been my father, mother, whoever.”

Trauma surgeon Keith Miller said the number of gunshot victims coming to the hospital is climbing, with nearly 300 admitted last year, he said. The toll is heavy on victims and their families. Miller said it’s hard on his team, too.

“For us to sit here and say it doesn’t’ take an emotional toll as a provider is silly. It does,” Miller said. “You go home and you give your kids six more kisses or hugs than you would’ve otherwise. I mean, that’s the absolute truth. You hug them a little harder than you might’ve before that day.”

K’Anthony Tyus was luckier than many victims. He recovered from his wound, and the city stepped in to pay his hospital bills. Now 12, he said he'd like to one day join Kyrie Irving in the NBA.

“Basketball is my favorite sport because I like to watch Kyrie Irving play,” K’Anthony said. “If he changes [teams], I won’t go.”

Until then, he plans to play football. His grandmother worries his leg could be injured again, but she’s glad to see him running and walking. "It could’ve been worse," she said.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.

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