Sunday, September 16, 2012

Survivor Story: Joseph B. Jaskolka

Today we have a survivor story from guest blogger Joseph B. Jaskolka.  Just after midnight on the morning of January 1, 1999, he was 11 years old when he suffered a gunshot wound from celebratory gunfire in Philadelphia, as he describes below. For years after, he had therapy five days a week.  He eventually helped with the original Million Mom March.  He is now 25 years old and still has the bullet in his head (as you can see in the x-ray).  Here is his survivor story....

What goes up, must come down. That’s the sad truth behind my situation!

An x-ray of Joseph B. Jaskolka and the bullet still lodged in his head
Hello, my name is Joseph B. Jaskolka, and I am a gun-violence survivor. Back on New Year’s Eve 1998~into~New Year’s morning of January 1st, 1999, I changed the trend of gun-violence victims that give-up their struggle to exist. What makes my story “unique” is that I was just 11 years old at the time of my shooting (which is often considered a relative death sentence by my Doctor’s and Nurses’ at that time period.)

I was your typical athletic, video game playing, outdoors type child that loved playing with my neighborhood crew (friends) and sports with my classmates. In my school, I loved to play sports, mainly football and basketball. Then, the buck stops there…

It was New Year’s Eve of 1998, and as a tradition set by my late Grandfather, everyone would travel from all-over on the east coast and try with all their power to attend that traditional family gathering. By going to that party, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with distant cousins who didn’t live close-by.

As the clock struck midnight, and as normal people do in our “civilized” nation, my parents rang in the New Year by banging on pots and pans.  I had no idea that people would be firing their guns into the midnight sky, but that is the often painful re-occurrence that people partake in doing. It’s an over 300 year-old tradition dating back to colonial days when William Penn helped to establish the city of Philadelphia, or the city of brotherly love, and sisterly affection?!

A couple cousins and I were heading to go see one of the local Mummer’s string bands warm-up, or as they're most famously called by my two parents, The New Year shooters.  I thought that title was pretty odd at the time, now I have more common-sense!

Being the son of a Vietnam veteran (father) and a Navy brat (mother) I never really was ever taught to “admire” firecrackers/works.  My dad always taught me that they were dangerous, and also saying, “If you want fireworks, go in the service.” Which before my shooting I was preparing myself for.

Against popular belief, I wasn’t walking to see the fireworks at Penn’s Landing in Center-city Philadelphia, I was enjoying the family-festivities in my Grandmother’s split-level row-house in South Philadelphia. Here come the irony…

I got maybe a half-block away from my Grandmother’s home before a “Celebratory bullet" pierced my skull. Better yet, when my cousin Jeff ran back in the house to report to an adult to call 911, “Joe’s just lying on the ground, everyone must have thought I was joking”, but a child with a bullet-hole in the top of his cranium, when my parents (and aunts, uncles, and fellow cousins) were all trying to figure out what happened to me, crazy scenarios started to be heard.

When police searched the rooftops in a few block radius a day later, they found over 700 spent bullets!

When everyone at the party figured out my condition, they along with the medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) must have all figured I was dead.  You know you’re a dead man when the hospital has a priest sitting with your parents in the Emergency Room to wait for bad news.

Because the city was basically broke at that time, they only had enough funds to pay for ambulances for crowd control in Center-city, so with my family's frantic 911 call, all the city could afford was to send me a fire truck to a shooting scene in South Philadelphia.  Even better yet, the dispatcher next sent us a police wagon!

So, they loaded me in the wagon and off we went to Jefferson Hospital, my first hospital, then after that I was flown to CHOP where doctors and nurses there saved my life.

Fast-forward to the present state of our country...  I can’t understand where the argument exists between whether gun-violence is an urban problem or a residential one.  The way I will always see it, it’s a bleak and scary American issue. Both of our presidential “Hopefuls” are remaining silent on the issue because they both think gun-control is a losing issue among voters, but funny thing is they’re both not losing a thing by remaining silent, just the American people keep losing their lives.


ADDENDUM (from Baldr):  If you wish to combat celebratory gunfire, I urge you to visit and support the Bullet Free Sky website and Facebook page, which was formed by the family of 12-year old Diego Duran after he was also shot by celebratory gunfire.  You can also visit and support the "Citizens Against Celebratory Gunfire and Senseless Gun Violence" Facebook page.  Bullets don't know when to stop.