SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – Doug Gess was sure he had killed his only son last month during the first day of deer season as the two hunted near Ortonville, Minn.
Turns out, he was almost right.
Gess was loading his semiautomatic shotgun the same way he had “a million times” when it went off, accidentally striking 16-year-old Jesse in the back and setting off a month-long drama for the Bloomington, Minn., family.
That wild ride marked an important milestone Wednesday as Jesse, who had been in Sanford Children’s Hospital, got to go home. And in pretty good shape, no less.
“It feels good. I’m going to play Xbox Live,” said Jesse, adding he has little pain.
“He’s just lucky. He was really lucky,” his dad said.
Jesse Gess was transported to Sanford on Nov. 6 after a 12-gauge shotgun slug tore a half-inch hole in his back before passing through his ribs, lung, diaphragm and liver.
When Gess arrived at Sanford he was conscious and talking but in respiratory distress, said Dr. Dennis Glatt, director of the Sanford Trauma Program.
Medical personnel placed him on a breathing tube and drained a liter of blood from the right part of his chest.
“He was in the dying process. We put him on a ventilator and interrupted that dying process,” said Glatt, who was on call when Gess was brought in. “What was dramatic was how big the hole was. A shotgun slug is a big bullet. It packs a big punch. There’s a lot of killing power in a shotgun slug.”
The slug plowed through the box and cab of the truck and through a seat before it smashed into Gess’ back. That was the lucky part for the teen, as the trip through the metal and seat slowed the bullet as it approached, Glatt said.
Still, the gunshot wound was unique in the way it entered and the number of organs it hit, the doctor said.
The slug came to rest “bulging” underneath the skin on the right side of Gess’ chest, Glatt said.
“God got him here as soon as possible so we could save him,” Glatt said.
Before the accident, Jesse Gess was waiting in the passenger’s seat while Doug Gess loaded his shotgun in the back of the truck. The two were hunting near their cabin on Big Stone Lake in Minnesota. The older Gess said he’s hunted there for more than 50 years, and his son has tagged along since he was 8. It’s just the two of them, since Jesse’s mother died of a brain aneurysm while she was pregnant with him.
Doug Gess heard the boom and echo of his shotgun, followed by his son’s cry of “Ouch.” Jesse climbed out of the pickup before dropping to his hands and knees.
“He’s going to die,” Gess said to himself as soon as he saw the hole in his son’s back.
“We’ve got to get you to the hospital,” he told his son before rushing to Ortonville, 10 miles away, near the South Dakota border.
Jesse Gess remembers the drive to Ortonville, and his helicopter flight to Sanford.
“I felt fine, so it was just weird. I wasn’t really scared or anything,” he said of the initial shock he experienced. “The shot hurt most. It was the stopping power, the force of it, like getting hit with a bat.”
But he doesn’t remember what happened after he arrived at Sanford, or the five days he spent in the intensive care unit.
When Doug Gess entered the ICU and saw his son with “tubes all over him,” he didn’t think he would live.
But Jesse Gess pulled through.
Gess was discharged from the hospital Nov. 22 and celebrated Thanksgiving at home with his family. He had some pain that weekend and was readmitted Nov. 29. Glatt said Gess’ liver is leaking bile from the injuries, and doctors completed a procedure to help it drain properly. On Wednesday, he was cleared to go home until he returns for a checkup in 20 days.
So far this year, 25 people have been injured in hunting accidents in Minnesota, according to the safety training office for the Department of Natural Resources. Two of those injuries were fatal.
South Dakota averages 32 hunting accidents a year, according to the Game, Fish and Parks Department. This year, there has been one fatality.
Most accidents are self-inflicted, said Mike Hammer, education coordinator for division of enforcement for the Minnesota DNR.
“It’s because of carelessness, people not paying attention to the rules of gun safety all the time,” Hammer said. “You should always load and unload your firearms when you are not around other people and make sure you have your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.”
Jesse Gess chalks up his incident to a simple accident that won’t stop the father and son from hunting again next year. His dad jokes they’ll wear flak jackets.
After all, Jesse Gess got a new gun this year that he hasn’t even had a chance to use.
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