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The scar remains. It’s deep brownish red color spans from the middle of Brian Nieto’s chest through his bellybutton and down to his waist line, creating an almost symmetrical division of his upper body. Several more marks and scars are visible where the bullets pierced his flesh and where he was later stapled and sewn back together.
It’s all a reminder of the July 31 night the Fresno police officer was shot three times while attempting to make a traffic stop on his motorcycle in central Fresno.
He had severe injuries to his stomach, liver, bladder and diaphragm and was rushed to University Medical Center, which housed the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and has since been relocated to the downtown Community Regional Medical Center.
“I remember them starting to remove clothing, start to do IVs, roll me into the surgery main doors, and then I went blank,” Nieto said. … I do remember several nightmares, but I remember waking up, which ended up being three weeks later, and then going through the rehab state of getting better at the hospital.”
Dr. Ricard Townsend made an incision and went to work during the trauma staff’s effort to save Nieto’s life. He endured seven surgeries in the first 17 days of a monthlong stay. A team of doctors, residents, physcians’ assistants and clinical pharmacists visited him every day, said Dr. Krista Kaups, director of surgical critical care at the new Table Mountain Rancheria Trauma Center.
“I think the medical staff did beyond what they needed to do,” Nieto said. “And, with their knowledge and what they’ve done together as a team – as a medical unit – helping me, doing what they needed to do to save my life, I think that’s actually what did save my life. Because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. I don’t think I’d be here if I was somewhere else.”
He went through periods of internal bleeding, infection and shock – all the while hordes of family, friends and colleagues congregated outside the hospital near a motor home his parents, Larry and Mary, turned into their temporary home.
Supporters and fellow officers, including Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer, frequented the site that became known as “Camp Nieto” throughout the day and night. Nieto even got a visit from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fresno mayor Alan Autry just days after the shooting.
After a four-day search, the 25-year-old man accused of shooting Nieto was shot and killed when police tried to take him into custody.
Eventually, Nieto was transported from UMC to Community Regional’s Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center, where he had to re-learn how to do some of life’s most basic tasks.
“I had to walk around in the hall – the whole level – and get stronger, and put my socks on, and take a shower, and clean up, and brush my teeth, and shave, and comb my hair and do things that you take for granted that you’re used to doing every day and take five minutes – took half an hour.”
Nieto has since returned home, but continues therapy twice a week at Community Outpatient Rehab Center.
“I’m mostly back, I’d say 80 to 85%,” Nieto said. “There’s good days and bad days.”
And every time Nieto glances at the scars he’s left with – a reminder of all he’s been through and how far he’s come – he remembers how close he came to not having any days left at all.
This story was reported by Eddie Hughes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Bailey and Rebecca Wass also contributed to this story.