Surviving the Unthinkable

By Damon Coates

(as told to Janine Ridings)

Back in 2003, I was a patrol sergeant with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. On January 9, I was on patrol as a supervisor when some of my deputies got a call to a home in Milwaukie of a disturbance that involved a mother and her fifteen-year-old son. Deputies arrived on scene, and tried to determine if they should transport the boy for mental evaluation, believing he might be a danger to others or himself. What they did not know is that the boy’s girlfriend or her mother had contacted our dispatchers to report the boy was in possession of a handgun that day. Dispatchers had not been able to relay that information to deputies or myself before we arrived because of faulty radios.

Deputies at the home asked me to respond and give them some guidance on how to proceed. Based on what I knew at that point, it seemed likely I would recommend the boy be taken to a hospital for evaluation. I had an ambulance sent to the home in anticipation of this. I arrived at the scene and went inside to evaluate the boy for myself. I walked up to the teen who was sitting on the couch with his mother, and we talked for a few minutes. I decided to search him and place him in custody to be transported to the police station. When I reached forward towards him, unbeknownst to me he was holding a .45 pistol in his hand under his shirt. When my hand touched his shoulder, his hand flashed from under his shirt. I could see the muzzle of the pistol just as a bright flash went off. The boy shot me point blank in the face, and the next thing I remember was being on the floor, bleeding profusely.

I began to pray, and made a covenant with God that if he would let me live to see my wife, Tammy again, I would be His to use however He wished. Meanwhile, the EMTs from the ambulance I had called came in to help me, and they later took me to a life-flight helicopter that flew me to the Emanuel Trauma Center. Doctors told my family that I would have a 1% chance of surviving the night. With much prayer, thankfully I did survive. I ended up spending several weeks in the ICU after the incident. One day while in the ICU, I remember seeing my wife, Tammy’s blonde hair enter the room for the first time since my injury. When she walked to my bed and held my hand, I knew that God had answered my prayer.

The bullet that hit me in the face caused a stroke, paralyzing my left side and leaving me wheelchair bound. Doctors told me I would be lucky if I could ever stand up again. People continued to pray and I progressed little by little. I finally reached the point where I could walk with a cane, which was a huge step forward for me. After being released from the hospital, I spent time in a rehabilitation center until I was ready to go home. My total recovery time ended up being about four months.

My wife, Tammy was a very important part of my recovery process. During my recovery, I was “running the race,” and Tammy ran by my side, always cheering me on. We had an unbelievable relationship before the incident, which was a huge blessing. Following my injury, I actually felt closer to Tammy in many ways, but less confident. I could not help but feel less attractive as a mate. However, the relationship we had prior to the shooting gave us a good foundation to build on, and has helped us survive all that we’ve been through.

I would recommend that couples work on their marriage before a crisis hits, knowing that everyone will go through a storm in their life at some point. Having a strong foundation in one’s marriage definitely can help weather the tough times when they come. Ecclesiastes 4:9,10, and 12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

God has done a lot of incredible things in my heart and life through my injury. Prior to the shooting, I was without question, far too prideful, and was often able to succeed on my appearance alone. Since the injury, I have been humbled, and realize my strength in life comes from Christ alone.

I’m thankful that God has given me quite a few opportunities the last few years to share about Him. I feel fortunate to have been used in numerous ways, including having the privilege of leading several people to the Lord. When I see the impact I have been able to have on lives because of my injury, it gives me the strength to carry on. I look forward to the future and all God has ahead for my family and me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Categories Special Subjects | Tags: | Posted on January 30, 2012

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