Location: Fairfax, South Carolina
Date: September 24, 1991
On the afternoon of September 24, 1991, seventeen-year-old Stephen Boland was playing guitar on the front porch of his house in Fairfax, South Carolina, when his friend, Ricky Grubbs, drove up and stopped to talk. Stephen noticed a handgun sitting under the front seat of his friend's car and asked to see it. Ricky warned Stephen that the gun, which belonged to his mother, was loaded. Curious and fascinated, Stephen picked it up and aimed it at the ground, then pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Stephen pointed the barrel at his friend's car and pulled the trigger a second time. Again, nothing happened. Ignoring Ricky's warnings, Stephen, confident that the gun was not loaded, aimed it toward his own neck. He fired, and the gun went off.
The bullet struck Stephen in the neck and ruptured his carotid artery. Ricky ran into the house and told Stephen's nineteen-year-old brother, Michael, to come out quickly. As Michael rounded the corner of the front porch, he saw Stephen lying on the sidewalk, blood pumping from his neck. He immediately directed the friend to apply direct pressure to Stephen's gunshot wound with his hand and keep it there.
"Mama, you've got to go to Stephen! I've stopped the bleeding!" yelled Michael as he ran inside and dialed their local emergency number. From the urgency in Michael's voice, his mother, Billie Jo, knew Stephen was in trouble. She ran outside, where Stephen lay unconscious, struggling to breathe. As a registered nurse, she knew immediately to lift his legs to keep the blood away from his extremities and from pooling around his vital organs. "I was paralyzed with fear," she recalls. "I saw all that blood and said to myself, this is my child and he's going to die."
By the time Allendale County rescuers arrived, Stephen was without a pulse and was not breathing on his own. After being stabilized by paramedics, Stephen was loaded into a helicopter destined for the trauma center at Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston. His parents watched the lift-off, painfully aware this might be the last time they would see their son alive.
In the trauma center, Stephen underwent emergency surgery to repair his carotid artery. Doctors were unable to remove the bullet, which had fragmented, and told the Bolands that Stephen would suffer extensive paralysis. Stephen was hospitalized for three months and today continues to undergo intensive physical therapy. His determination to regain the use of his limbs has paid off, and he now has substantial use of his full body with minimal use of his left arm. "I remember I couldn't move anything," recalls Stephen, "and I was so scared it was going to be like that for my whole life. I know it will be a lot of hard work to get it back, and that's what I plan on doing."
Doctors credit Michael Boland for saving his brother's life. They say that had Stephen lost one or two more pints of blood, the results would have been far worse. "Had it not been for Michael learning how to apply pressure to the wound, which he had seen on Rescue 911, Stephen could have bled to death," says Billie Jo. "We'll always be grateful for that."