ST. LOUIS – When you see news of shootings on TV, it’s rare that you see the faces of those injured. Many of those victims end up being released from hospitals with bullets remaining in their bodies.

“I was in my bed watching TV and I was shot in my back at 3:30 in the afternoon,” said Annette Smith, who was shot in 2021. “They told me if I didn’t have that headboard and the pillow behind my back, I would have been dead.”

Smith walked around with the bullet in her back for two years.

“It was in a spot that was hard to remove, and it just started giving me so much pain and it was starting to get infected, so I found a doctor that would remove it,” she said.

The doctor she found was trauma surgeon Dr. L.J. Punch with the Bullet Related Injury Clinic (BRIC).

Six people injured in overnight North St. Louis shooting

“Most people survive bullet injuries,” said Dr. Punch, adding that most survivors are told it’s too dangerous to remove a bullet.

“There is a lack of research, a lack of practice, and a lack of knowledge about what to do about bullets that are left in people’s bodies,” he said. “We use pre-Civil War medicine to guide our practices, because a mantra came about or dogma in surgery that taking bullets out, dissecting wounds, going down and pulling out the missile was more harmful than not; at a time when surgical technique didn’t have the most basic practices to prevent infection and promote healing.”

Punch is trying to change how doctors respond.

“If there’s this public ongoing outcry about reducing gun violence, why isn’t there more attention to addressing its immediate impact when someone’s actually shot?” he said. “That is why I built the BRIC.”

Punch estimates he’s treated 800 patients since 2020, many of whom he expects were mistakenly told it was safer to leave the bullet in their body.

“For many people, walking around with a half-inch piece of metal that was intended for their harm—that experience is devastating,” he said.

For Smith, removing the bullet from her back was part of feeling safe again.

“I wouldn’t go in that room for maybe four months. I closed the door. I would not go in the room at all. I was just traumatized,” she said.

While she does feel safer now and is less stressed without a bullet inside her, she still struggles with the fact her shooting was never solved. She wonders if the lack of accountability will result in the same person shooting someone else.

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