Published Jun. 19th, 2014
By Ty Beaver, Tri-City Herald
Gregg Warehime of Pasco turned a gunshot wound into a tattoo of Delta Trauma Three, the name he was given when he was admitted to the hospital. The empty circle on the left is where the bullet entered, damaging his spine. He will receive his nursing degree Saturday from Columbia Basin College.
A Pasco man had only begun his education to become a nurse when his neighbor shot him, sending a bullet tearing through the nerves at the base of his spine.
Doctors told Gregg Warehime he would never walk again. That he would be in a wheelchair the rest of his life.
Two and a half years later, the day he passed his last test, the 26-year-old Columbia Basin College student eagerly jumped up from a couch in his west Pasco home.
He walked over to show where the bullet that passed through his body went through a wall into his laundry room, striking a door frame before falling to the tile.
Warehime will receive his associate degree in nursing during a pinning ceremony Saturday. Almost 1,300 CBC students will receive bachelor's and associate degrees from the college during a graduation ceremony tonight.
Family, friends and others said they are impressed with his drive not only to walk again, but also to finish his education for a career he feels passionately about.
"You have to have the smarts, the tenacity, the perseverance to get through what he went through," said Mary Hoerner, director of CBC's nursing program.
Warehime graduated from Kennewick's Southridge High School in 2006. He worked at a furniture store before his mother, Retta Warehime, in 2007 helped him get a receptionist job at her workplace, Physicians Immediate Care in Richland.
"He didn't know what he wanted to do when he grew up," his mother said.
Gregg began to show interest in medicine while at the clinic, in part because of the encouragement of nursing director Cindy Mork.
"That's where I saw my first minor surgery (mole removal) and I knew I wanted to go into medicine," he said.
The clinic needed a medical assistant and paid for him to take a medical assisting course while Mork mentored him and gave him on the job training in drawing blood, taking X-rays and a number of other medical procedures.
"He never backed away," Mork said. "It was an online program and he rocked it."
But Warehime wanted more and decided to become a registered nurse.
Mork said the clinic would help pay his way, adding he was expected to work there part of the time while in school but was under no obligation to stay.
On Dec. 8, 2011, Warehime celebrated the end of his first term in CBC's nursing program by going to a late lunch at a Denny's with classmates before he returned home in the mid-afternoon.
Five minutes later, he heard pounding on his door, and when he answered it, his neighbor, Froilan Campos-Gonzalez, forced his way in.
Campos-Gonzalez confronted Gregg Warehime after claiming for months that the younger man and other neighbors had been firing Airsoft pellets and throwing rocks at his west Pasco home and poisoning his lawn and trees.
Campos-Gonzalez demanded to know where the BB gun was that Warehime was using to shoot at his home. Warehime told Campos-Gonzalez to leave, hit him in the face and ducked to avoid a punch, but Campos-Gonzalez pulled a pistol out and fired it once at Warehime.
"I screamed and I fell back," he recalled.
The bullet ripped through Warehime's intestines, but the worst damage was in his spine, where it punched two quarter-sized holes.
Surgeon Matthew Fewell patched Warehime's spine to prevent spinal fluid from continuing to leak out, while another surgeon, Philip Smith, removed four inches of small intestine. But the nerve damage was extensive.
"I believed what the doctors told him (about never walking again)," his mother said. "I cried every day."
Warehime and his father, Dan Warehime, felt otherwise.
"I had a perfect timeline for when I'd have a walker, when I'd have crutches, when I'd have a cane," Gregg Warehime said.
And others who knew him knew he would still be a force.
"I just asked him, 'When are you coming back,' " Mork recalled saying to him when he was hospitalized. " 'This isn't going to stop you.' "
Warehime was transferred to St. Luke's Medical Center in Spokane, where he learned how to use a wheelchair as well as other skills.
He also met with a therapist to talk about the shooting, as Warehime said he was concerned how little the incident fazed him. The therapist told him he was fine and must have just been particularly well-adjusted emotionally before the shooting.
"I still haven't cried," Warehime said. "I'm not sad. I'm not angry."
He also said he wasn't afraid and returned to his home, redecorated by family and friends, in early March 2012.
He attended Campos-Gonzalez's May 2012 sentencing hearing in a wheelchair. His neighbor was sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted first-degree assault.
"It's sad because he was really sick and needed help," Warehime said.
Meanwhile, Warehime was already pushing his recovery. Within two months of his return, he was using a walker at home.
He was asked to be the best man at a friend's wedding in June 2012 and wanted to walk down the aisle. He began working with forearm crutches. His family built a wheelchair ramp at his home in early June, but a week later he called his mother and said he didn't need it anymore.
"I didn't even know he was using crutches," Retta Warehime said. "The little stinker."
Warehime re-enrolled at CBC in January 2013, though he had wanted to return as soon as he was back home.
"School was what made me get better," he said. "I wanted to walk and everything but I wanted to be a nurse."
By this time he was using a cane. He's largely abandoned it when at home or elsewhere, but he still uses it at Kadlec on his rotations. He jokingly tells patients he rarely falls but that he wants to be sure he doesn't fall on them.
Warehime was a good student, Hoerner said. He helped others but it was his positive attitude that stood out, she said.
Family and friends said Warehime was loath to ask for help. When he was still in his wheelchair, he taught a CPR course in Physicians Immediate Care's basement. Someone carried his wheelchair down for him but Warehime hauled down his own equipment and CPR dummies.
"CBC got me a really nice cart to carry stuff around on," he said. "I never used it. It's in the garage."
There was some help he accepted, though. A fellow nursing student visited him shortly after the shooting and told him he and others were collecting money to pay off his truck. In the end, several fundraisers and auctions brought in tens of thousands of dollars, enough for him to finish school.
College is over, but Warehime is still studying. He has to pass his nursing board certification to be a registered nurse. He's confident he'll do well and has applications in at several hospitals. Kadlec is his first choice.
Warehime expects he'll regain almost complete function in his left leg, as the nerves that died are regrowing.
His right side is a different matter. Severed nerves don't regrow and his right leg is almost completely paralyzed below the knee. He can't feel his right foot, prompting him to keep his truck's hand controls for his brake and accelerator. Once a hockey player, he likely can't play or ice skate again.
But he's quick to point out he can do anything else.
Hanging in his living room, looking down on the spot where he lay bleeding in December 2011 is the head of a four-point buck -- the largest he's ever killed -- from a hunting trip a year after he was shot.
"I can follow my friends anywhere," he said.
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