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Photograph of Freeman High School student Gracie
Photograph of Freeman High School student Gracie
Photograph of Freeman High School student Gracie

$35,652.07!

Together, STCU members raised over $35,000 to help inland northwest kids like Gracie. Thank you!

The ambulance ride seemed short to the mother sitting in the front, next to the driver, as they sped last September past the fields and over the hills from Freeman High School to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.

To the teenage daughter, in the rear of the wagon talking sports with the crew and with a bullet hole in her back, the ride seemed brutally long.

They agree on one thing: When they arrived at the hospital, the hospital was ready.

"When we came in, down the whole ER hallway and every side hallway were gowned-up people, just deep, a couple people deep," said Jen Jensen, the mother. "It was a very humbling experience to know that that many people came so fast."

Gracie, 14 at the time, was one of three freshman girls injured in a shooting at Freeman High School on September 13, 2017. Their classmate Sam Strahan was killed.

Another classmate, accused in the shooting, awaits trial.

Nobody expects tragedy or trauma. Jen, a third-grade teacher at Freeman Elementary School, said she's grateful that when it happened to her daughter, the care she needed was an ambulance trip away rather than a flight to Seattle or Portland. Sacred Heart not only cared for her Gracie but also embraced her family, friends, and community, Jen said.

Joined by Gracie and another daughter, Sophia, 12, Jen retold the story in her elementary classroom, in hopes that it would help illustrate the important role Sacred Heart Children's Hospital plays in the community. Sacred Heart receives every dollar raised as part of STCU's annual Children's Miracle Network Hospital's fundraising campaign.

That minute when the shooting happened, 10:08 a.m. on September 13, was a terrible minute. But most of the minutes after that have been positive, Jen said, starting with the quality of Gracie's immediate care.

"We've seen healing and progress and growth and strength," Jen said.

CMNH pays for equipment, training.

Gracie was one of 521 pediatric trauma patients seen at Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in 2017. But the hospital treats thousands more children every year, suffering from problems as varied as asthma, cancer, a heart defect, or a broken leg.

The money raised as part of STCU's annual CMNH fundraising campaign — from June 27 to July 18 — will go to the hospital for equipment, training, and programs to help sick and injured children from throughout the region. Click the "Donate" button to see the different ways you can help.

Freeman High School student Gracie holding the CMNH balloon

CMNH pays for technology like 3-D "printed" hearts, precise models that allow cardiologists and surgeons to explore the options for young cardiac patients. It pays for machines such as AccuVein devices, which use infrared light to make it easier to find children's small veins during blood draws or IV placements.

CMNH also pays for Sacred Heart's Stop the Bleed program, created in response to shootings like the one at Freeman. The program provides kits that include tourniquets, gauze, and sterile gloves. Championed at Sacred Heart by a trauma services nurse, it provides training at schools and elsewhere, so bystanders will know how to stop uncontrolled bleeding in emergency situations, saving lives.

Recovery, healing.

For Gracie, survival may have hinged on a series of lucky breaks, considering. Before the shooting, an ambulance was already on its way to Freeman, responding to another student suffering an allergic reaction. The bullet tore through her spinal column but missed her spinal cord. It nicked her kidney and a hip flexor muscle, but it missed her colon. And while she lost blood, it wasn't enough to require a transfusion.

Doctors were cautiously optimistic, monitoring Gracie's vital signs and running tests to make sure there wasn't more going on in her body than they could initially determine, Jen said. Gracie had an entrance wound but no exit wound. And while she could move her legs when she arrived at the hospital, soon "both legs quit," Jen said — a result of swelling.

It wasn't until her second day at Sacred Heart, when she was being measured for a back brace, that a bump under her skin revealed the bullet's final location. "They just did an incision and opened it up at the bedside," Jen said.

Freeman High School student Gracie dancingFor two days, Gracie had to lay flat. For two weeks, sitting caused excruciating headaches.

The first time she was allowed to stand, her knees buckled, and she would have fallen without the support of a physical therapist. "I couldn't support myself," said Gracie, who has had to relearn to walk. Recovery continues to be hard, sweaty work, and Gracie will continue physical therapy through next fall or longer.

In the early days of Gracie's care, the staff at Sacred Heart made small and large gestures that helped to illustrate: Recovery from trauma is about more than healing bodies.

A nurse's aide washed and braided Gracie's hair and painted her nails. She made her feel human.

Hospital staff accommodated the "freeway of high school kids" who came to visit Gracie, Jen said. They opened a hospitality room and fed everybody pizza, drinks, cake. They brought in materials so the kids could make get-well cards.

For Gracie and her friends, for the Freeman community, those accommodations fostered healing, Jen said.

"You had kids that would come in and sob," Jen said. "You had kids come in who would tell jokes and be funny. You had kids come in who were inquisitive. They just asked question after question."

Now, for Gracie, the healing continues. But so does life: She went back to school full-time a couple of months after the shooting. She recently finished her track season; she does shot put and discus.

She missed most of a volleyball season and an entire basketball season — except one minute of one game, when she was allowed to enter the court.

"The crowd went wild," her sister Sophia said.

"I was just excited to play," Gracie said. "I had a couple of bad shots, and I finally made one."