The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado was nothing short of a national tragedy. The senseless violence has resulted in twelve families mourning the loss of loved ones, and the injury count has been higher still. The death toll at the Aurora theater could have been much higher, and in the case of one musician, would most certainly would have been, if not for the highly anomalous path that the bullet took. Despite having taken three shotgun pellets to the arm and one perilously close to the brain, 22-year-old composer and violinist Petra Anderson is speeding toward a full recovery–perhaps with the help of music and its restorative effect on the brain.
Anderson, like so many others, went to the midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie–a fateful decision that came terrifyingly close to ending her life. When the gunman opened fire in the theater, Anderson was shot four times. Three pellets from the shotgun hit her in the arm, and the other came shockingly close to killing her. The fourth shot entered her body through her nose, where it, by all accounts, should have hit her brain. Somehow, it avoided hitting anything that would have caused a serious brain injury. The lucky path was initially attributed to a small and previously unnoticed congenital brain defect that essentially shunted the pellet down a fluid tube and prevented it from hitting the brain. Reports are now revised to reflect the latest medical opinion, which is that Anderson was wildly and incredibly lucky. Says Dr. Michael Rauzzino, the neurosurgeon at the Medical Center of Aurora:
It would be hard to create a path similar to this where it goes all the way from the front to the back and misses every single blood vessel, doesn’t bother any of the major structures, and leaves her able to talk and move everything and not be paralyzed or dead. Never in my entire career have I seen a case where a bullet has traversed the entire brain like this and not caused severe damage or death.
Anderson’s extraordinary luck has resulted in the prediction of a full recovery. According to her pastor, she has started talking again, although she will likely need more surgeries, including a possible facial reconstruction. Her brain, however, is making a great recovery. According to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, “if you think about trying to sing a song, for example, there are several different parts of your brain that are immediately harnessed.” Anderson, fittingly, still being exposed to and surrounded by music, often played by her clarinetist boyfriend. The music could be greatly beneficial in Anderson’s return to walking and physical autonomy: “In someone who is just learning to walk, if you find a song with a particular cadence to it, you can learn how to reestablish your rhythm,” said Gupta. As Anderson makes her recovery and finds her way back to music, this may be a most inspiring case of “Musician, heal thyself.” We wish her the very best and speediest recovery in the coming weeks, months, and years.