Teen shot at Heath resolved to walk again (from Feb. 1998)

Herald-Leader Medical WriterAugust 10, 2014 

Originally published on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1998

Like any 16-year-old, she has her eyes on the future, what it might hold for her, what she might do with her life. One possibility she has considered is becoming a physical therapist. She says the idea of a career helping people recover from sickness and injury would be appealing if she could do the work.

If ...

"If," Missy Jenkins adds softly, "I ever started walking again ..." Tragically, walking again might not be in her future.

Missy has been paralyzed from the waist down since the morning of Dec. 1, when a schoolmate with a handgun fired 11 shots into a group of students in the lobby of Paducah's Heath High School. Three youngsters were killed, and five, including Missy, were wounded. Only Missy remains in the hospital.

For almost two weeks, she has been at Lexington's Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, receiving daily physical and occupational therapy, and learning to control the wheelchair that she might have to rely on for the rest of her life.

The bullet that found Missy entered her left shoulder and burrowed near her spinal cord before exiting her body. While her spinal cord was not severed, doctors in Paducah have said the damage to it was so severe that Missy probably will not walk again.

That's a tough prospect to face when you're 16 and making plans, when everything is new and the future should be full of unlimited possibilities.

But Missy is facing it with a smile, with the confidence of youth, and with a determination to carry on whatever happens. Despite what the doctors say, she believes she will walk again . "I plan on it, I think I will," she said earlier this week. "I'm not going to give up on it. "It won't bother me if I can't, because I can live with it perfectly fine. I'm not going to be upset or anything. But if I could walk again, I'd go for it."

Missy has granted a few interviews since Dec. 1, although she declines to talk about the day of the shooting or about Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old who has been indicted for murder in the case. But in every interview she has been unfailingly upbeat and optimistic.

"I can't be upset and be happy, so I don't stay upset," she once told the Paducah Sun.

Tracy Martin, a physical therapist at Cardinal Hill who is working with Missy, says staff members there are impressed with her courage and optimism. Not every patient is so confident, Martin said. "She just has a very good attitude and that does make it easier than if someone is really discouraged," Martin said. "She has had a lot of good support. And the fact that she is young is probably part of it, younger people are maybe a little more resilient."

Missy herself says, "I feel perfectly fine. I don't feel that different."

But life is different.

Since Dec. 1, she has spent all of one hour in her home, and has not slept in her own room, in her own bed. First, she spent weeks at Paducah's Lourdes Hospital recovering from her wound. Then, after that one-hour stop at home, she came to Cardinal Hill. Her days at the rehabilitation hospital are filled with therapy sessions, pumping iron to strengthen her arms, learning to dress and undress herself, learning to navigate her wheelchair, learning to get in and out of the wheelchair by herself. In the evenings she keeps up with her schoolwork. She will remain at Cardinal Hill another three to four weeks. Her twin sister, Mandy, is at her side almost constantly. Her parents, Ray and Joyce

Jenkins, are staying temporarily at an apartment in Lexington, along with her older sister, Christy, and they visit every day. Since the shooting - which was headline news nationwide - Missy has become a celebrity. President Clinton sent her three cards - one for Christmas, one for her birthday Dec. 24 and one for New Year's. When she visited a mall in Paducah, a CBS News camera team followed her every move. And when she toured Fayette Mall with friends last Sunday, strangers immediately recognized her and came over to talk. "It hasn't bothered me," she said. "People have been really nice. And it's really neat to see yourself in the newspaper because I've never been in the newspaper like that before. It was cool."

A coalition of Chevrolet dealers in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri recently gave the Jenkins family a conversion van. It's equipped with a wheelchair lift, which not only is used by Missy, but by her mother, who has arthritis and also uses a wheelchair.

Like every 16-year-old, Missy already is dreaming of getting her driver's license. And there are plans to equip the van with hand-operated brakes so she can drive it.

Back in Paducah, they're building an addition onto the Jenkins' home that will provide a new wing for Missy, all wheelchair friendly. A trip to Disney World is possible in the spring. But Missy says she's determined to return to Heath High School before the end of the school year and finish her classes. Then, there's the future again.

If being a physical therapist isn't possible, she might be interested in working in TV. She really isn't sure yet.

"I know I want to go to college," she said. "I might spend two years at community college in Paducah and then go somewhere else."

When time permits, she likes to play with a laptop computer she received from a group in Alabama. She uses it to keep in contact with friends back home over the Internet and frequently converses with new friends she meets in cyberspace. She says they're always surprised to learn she is the Missy Jenkins who was shot at the Paducah high school. Some don't believe her.

"I guess they think I'm making it all up."

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