Trauma on the green

Trauma on the green

Shooting has not stopped Jacksonville woman from leading active life

By Tiffany Wilson

Jane Prendergast

Jane Prendergast, 70, has made it a mission to take care of her health.

She hikes, lifts weights and goes to yoga class.

But there was nothing she could do to prevent a health scare that could have killed her one Sunday afternoon on the exclusive Ocean Forest golf course on Sea Island, Ga. She was shot in the abdomen as she lined up a putt on the fifth green.

The shooter was using a .22-caliber rifle to kill squirrels, but his aim was poor. A bullet pierced right through the petite Prendergast, knocking her to the ground.

Luckily, she was conscious and aware. She yelled that she had been shot, and both her husband and the shooter came running to her aid. Soon an ambulance was on the green to take her to a helicopter landing area. She would be flown to a hospital she knew little about, UF Health Jacksonville.

In the hospital’s Level I trauma center, northeast Florida and southeast Georgia’s only facility equipped to deal with such a severe injury, Andrew Kerwin, M.D., was on call.

“I received a text page that said we had a 70-year-old female with a gunshot wound. That’s not the typical patient you expect to have a gunshot wound,” said Kerwin, the chief of acute care surgery at UF Health Jacksonville.

A lot could have gone wrong that evening.

“When people get gunshot wounds in that area, there is a potential for major injuries to the arteries. They could easily bleed to death,” Kerwin said.

Prendergast’s injury coursed through her gallbladder, liver and duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. Kerwin had to remove the gallbladder. A part of her liver also had to be taken out, but he was able to repair the rest.

Prendergast’s surgery lasted about four hours. When it was over, Kerwin delivered the good news that she would be all right; she’d just need some time to recover.

But the driven woman who once worked in international human resources for Coca-Cola had other ideas.

Prendergast was walking the day she had surgery. She was maneuvering her way up and down stairs by day three. Two weeks later, she would be back on the golf course. She resumed her daily sets of push-ups and sit-ups within a month.

“To see that happen was tremendous. She had obviously kept herself in very good shape before this happened. We had expected her to have a much more difficult course after surgery,” Kerwin said.

Prendergast said she is glad she was taken to UF Health Jacksonville.

“I can’t say enough how pleasant and professional the staff was. As experiences go, it was as good as it possibly could have been,” she said.

Prendergast is a good reminder that trauma can happen to anyone anywhere, regardless of age, race or sex, Kerwin said.

“There are no boundaries for trauma. It can happen to anybody at any time, and no one expects it until it happens.”