The day of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the team that first found student Maddy Wilford briefly thought she was dead. A week and three surgeries later, Maddy was discharged from the hospital with little outward sign of the multiple gunshot wounds she sustained.
At a press conference at Broward Health North on Monday morning—flanked by her parents and the medical professionals who saved her life—Maddy and her family had a message of gratitude and hope.
“I’m so grateful to be here and it wouldn’t be possible without those officers and first responders and these amazing doctors,” Maddy told the room of reporters. Her voice quavered as she spoke. “I was sitting on my couch today just thinking about all the letters and gifts everyone has given, all the love that’s been passed around. I definitely wouldn’t be here without it.”
That she would be here at all was not a certainty on the afternoon of Feb. 14.
Lt. Laz Ojeda of the Coral Springs Fire Department described at the press conference how Maddy was pale and barely responsive when she was brought to him on the scene. Because first responders thought she was younger, Ojeda was told to take her to the Level 1 trauma center at Broward Health Medical Center—where pediatric gunshot wounds would normally go—nearly 30 miles away.
But Ojeda had a hunch the girl was older and too fragile to make the longer trip. The teen was shot “at least” three times in the chest, abdomen and arm. One of the bullets pierced a lung. So, Ojeda told reporters, he gave her a sternum rub, a painful knuckle to the chest to elicit a response.
“I go, ‘Hey how old are you?’ No response. Second sternum rub: ‘Hey how old are you?’ She came around. She told me she was 17,” said Ojeda.
Ojeda recalled then saying, “We’re going to North Broward. It’s only 10 miles away.”
That decision may well have saved Maddy’s life.
“I would like to try to find a way to find the positive in what has happened here,” said Maddy’s mom, Missy Wilford. She said her family felt the prayers of friends and strangers. And she encouraged people who are hurting to reach out for help.
“It’s OK to feel the way that you feel,” she said.
Maddy is carrying some shrapnel from the bullets, and the doctors say she may have trouble writing with her right hand for a while—the white hospital dressing on her right hand poked out the sleeve of her black sweatshirt—but she should be able to return to school next week.
“Like my mom says, it’s times like these when I know that we need to stick together,” said Maddy.