MUSC neurosurgeons save mother and unborn child after domestic violence shooting | MUSK


For Haleigh Rae Startin, the first serious red flag was raised in November 2019, shortly after finding out she was pregnant. “It was the first time he had really attacked me. I was a manager at Firehouse Subs and I went to work. He basically kidnapped me and threw my phone out the window, ”Startin said. “Then he blackened both my eyes and broke my lip. When he left, I went to a gas station and called 911. ”

Police took her statement and issued a warrant against her boyfriend for first degree domestic violence.

But things seemed to work out after that. They spent Christmas with his family in North Carolina and threw a revealing party like this where friends popped a balloon filled with light blue confetti. They were delighted to welcome a son into the world. Still, the arguments continued to simmer.

In January 2020, four months into her pregnancy, Startin decided she had had enough. “It had been two months since he beat me, and I thought it was a good time to tell him that I was done,” she said. “I took the ring off my finger and said I didn’t want it anymore, and he got mad.”

As they drove through a rural area near Green Sea, SC, he pulled out a gun and shot her in the head, stopping to push her out of the car and leaving her as well as their unborn child for dead in the middle of the road. “A sweet old woman named Carolyn found her. It is a miracle that she came because it is not a very busy road. She thought Haleigh had been hit by a car, ”said Sue, Haleigh’s mother.

MUSC marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month each October. Photo by Montez Seabrook

Startin was flown to MUSC Health where Alejandro Spiotta, MD., led the team of neurosurgeons and critical care specialists who worked to save his life. “Based on the gunshot wound alone, many hospitals would have abandoned her because her chances of a significant recovery were so low,” Spiotta said. “The CAT scanner showed a very deep bullet trajectory that stopped just an inch from the center of his brain. If it had gone any further, she would have been in a coma.

They took her to emergency surgery. “His chances weren’t good, but it wasn’t impossible. We just saw this young pregnant woman who deserved every chance we could give her, ”said Spiotta. “The first thing was to reduce the swelling in his brain and prevent further damage. We removed a large piece of his skull and parts of his brain that were damaged, but we had to leave several bullet fragments because it was too risky to remove them, ”he explained.

Fortunately, the swelling subsided and Startin survived. Over the next several months, she underwent two more brain surgeries and multiple complications, including an aneurysm, seizures, preeclampsia and pulmonary embolism. It has now been a year and a half since the rainy day in January which could have been her last, and she is back home to raise her son.

“He has completed his term,” she said proudly. “Born at MUSC Children’s Hospital Shawn Jenkins – a healthy little boy weighing 9 pounds and 19 inches long. We were worried about all the medications I was taking and everything I went through during my pregnancy, but he’s doing great. Although she still uses a wheelchair, she is determined to regain independent mobility. “I’m working hard on my therapy and doing everything I can to get better because I won’t let him win. My goal is to get out of that chair and walk on my own again, ”she said.

a man and a woman place purple mills in a flower bed
Lt. Layne Thompson of Public Safety helps social worker Abby Steere-Williams start windmills on the Charleston Medical District Greenway. Photo by Montez Seabrook

For Spiotta, it is a joy to see how far they have come. “Considering her injury, she has made remarkable progress. She still has problems with weakness on her left side and occasional seizures, but I think she will regain her ability to walk with help. Her timing is perfect and she is young, ”said Spiotta. “It is so gratifying to see her in the clinic; his mother is always by his side and his son is thriving.

He credits Startin’s positive result to MUSC Health’s multidisciplinary team approach, which brings together several areas of expertise to manage difficult cases. Specialists in trauma, intensive care, neuroendovascular surgery, neurology, intensive care, neurological nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy have all collaborated to help Startin get through her ordeal. Spiotta also attributes a unique MUSC culture. “Other hospitals call us when they have a scary case. Dozens of foster hospitals send their most difficult patients to us, and we are keenly aware that we are often these patients’ last hope. Knowing this prompts us to do all we can for them. It’s our culture not to leave anyone behind.

MUSC Health also has specialists who deal exclusively with cases of intimate partner violence. The MUSC Advocacy Program (MAP) includes a social work response team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to calls from any staff member who suspects that a patient has been a victim of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, elder abuse or neglect or human trafficking. Senior Certified Social Worker Abby Steere-Williams is the Coordinator of Map Social Work.

“Honestly, I thought we were fine when he shot me. I really didn’t think he would try to kill me – until he did.
Haleigh rae startin

No one deserves to be hurt by their partner. If you need help, resources are available.

MUSC Advocacy Program: 843-792-2123

MUSC Women’s Health has resources statewide, by county.

My Sisters’ House: 843-744-3242

SC Legal Services: 888-346-5592

Charleston Area Consolidated Breakdown (Non-Emergency): 843-743-7200

MUSC National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC): 843-792-8209

National helpline on domestic violence:

“We are a 24 hour social work intervention team for any inpatient or outpatient MUSC. We conduct a safety and hazard assessment with them and provide resources for whatever they need – shelter, advice, medical care, food, clothing – whether they are ready to leave the situation they find themselves in or no, ”Steere-Williams explained. “We follow up after they are discharged to make sure they know they are not alone and that there is support available in their local community to help them. ”

Steere-Williams stresses that self-determination is one of the core values ​​of the program, and they don’t pressure victims to leave before they’re ready.

“When a provider is concerned that something is going on, we meet with the patient one-on-one and talk about the prevalence of intimate partner violence,” said Steere-Williams. “We educate them about domestic violence and the help that is available. We let them know that this type of violence affects one in four women, so it’s very common, and if they or someone they know is in this situation, they can call us when they’re ready.

The MAP team works closely with MUSC Health forensic nurses, such as Karen Hughes, RN, who is a certified nurse examiner for sexual assault. “We see them at the same time as MAP so the person doesn’t have to tell their story, which is traumatic,” Hughes said. “Our job as nurses is to examine them from head to toe and ask questions about their medical history. We make a body map where we measure, describe and document their injuries with photographs so they will have them if they need them later in a court case.

Although many victims do not take legal action for a period of time after an assault, they know that there are forensic documents in their MUSC medical records in case they need it. In the event of serious injuries, such as those suffered by Startin, the police can intervene and initiate criminal proceedings on the sole basis of the medical file.

Hughes and Steere-Williams work with male and female victims of spousal violence and said most victims return to their abusers after release. Their goal is to ensure that victims know how they can reach out and where to go for help and understand the level of danger they face in choosing to stay or leave. “Victims don’t always understand how endangered they are,” Steere-Williams said.

In fact, that’s what motivated Startin to tell their story. “Honestly, I thought we were fine when he shot me. I really didn’t think he would try to kill me – until he did, “she said, offering the following advice to the others:” Please leave before he does. not be too late. You might not be as lucky as me. I do not wish anyone what I have been through. If he verbally abuses you, he will physically abuse you and he will try to kill you. This is what I learned. At the first sign of disrespect, go ahead and leave because it’s not worth it at the end of the day. I know what it’s like to love someone so much that you feel like you can fix them, but you can’t fix people.

She also hopes that sharing her story will help create more open conversations about intimate partner violence. “Domestic violence is so secretive and taboo. But we should talk about it more openly. I feel like it would help people who feel lonely and trapped.

For now, she is happy to be home, working towards her goal of walking again and raising her son in a house filled with love and gratitude. “He’s doing so well! I just want all the right things for him. I want him to always be kind and to admire me the same way I admire my mother. So I’m going to be the best I can be for him.


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