Shown below is the right eye of my 15 year old daughter, Hailee Garrett. Hailee's eye
was severely damaged by a drive-by paintball shooter on September 24th, 2003. This
was taken December 5th, after her second surgery. She has since had her third surgery
and only has very slight detection of light and movement in this eye (read Hailee's story
below). Please keep Hailee in your prayers. Hailee is the girl diving for the volleyball
on the homepage of this website. . . that photo was taken two days before her accident.
I feel obligated to tell Hailee Garrett's story and the dangers associated with paintball guns. It was
the night of September 24th, 2003. It was Homecoming week in our small town and Hailee had just
finished scoring two touchdowns in the annual Powder Puff football game. Life was fun, exciting
and good for this active fifteen-year old. After the game, as she stood alongside a country road with
a group of her friends, her life was changed forever. She became the innocent victim of a senseless
drive-by paintball shooting and was shot in the right eye, receiving a devastating injury.
Our nightmare started at approximately 10:30 p.m. on that night of September 24th, 2003. Hailee
was initially rushed to the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center, Nampa, Idaho. The on-call
emergency room doctor determined that her injuries were more severe than they could attend to, so
we immediately drove her to the closest on-call ophthamologist at Caldwell, Idaho. At 2:00 in the
morning, we received the alarming news that we needed to quickly get Hailee to one of the larger
eye centers in either Portland, Oregon or Salt Lake City, Utah. Her injuries were multiple and
severe. By this time, we did not know if Hailee would even have an eye. She resembled a
well-beaten prize-fighter, with her right eye profusely swollen and bruised. I am an avid
photographer, but there was no way I could shoot a picture of the damage that was done to my
beautiful daughter that night. I now wish I had a photo in order to educate and illustrate the sickening
damage that can be done by paintballs.
The next morning we boarded the first flight to Portland and Hailee was admitted for two days to the
Doernbecher Children's Hospital after seeing doctors at the Casey Eye Institute. This was the first
of two medical trips to Portland. After numerous visits to additional doctors in the Treasure Valley,
we ended up at the Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City. Twelve additional trips to Salt Lake City
have resulted in three delicate surgeries. She has had cataract surgery, retina surgery and a
vitrectomy (all the fluid removed from her eye and replaced with silicone oil). Her injuries are as
follows: a substantial divot out of the cornea with lacerations, a torn, detached and partially missing
retina, damage to the macula due to a choroidal rupture, optic nerve damage, a torn and tattered iris
and a misshapen pupil.
Those that know Hailee can attest to her very positive attitude, happy
nature, and accompanying smile. She is a very competitive and
talented athlete, excelling at any sport she tries. Because of this
accident and associated injuries, all the sports that she loved were
taken away from her for her Sophomore year of high school as she
healed from surgeries. When she competes again, she will be forced to
wear protective goggles during any sport, for the protection of her
remaining good eye. She has had an outstanding attitude for what she
has been dealt. It is extremely hard as a father to see what this young
lady has gone through. I am a grown man, but I have cried more tears
than can be imagined. I have spent many days crying my way to work,
a thirty-minute drive into town. The pain of watching the doctors ask Hailee if she can see during a
simple eye test and her answer again being . . . "No," is like driving a stake in your heart. Her
struggle to regain vision in this eye has been a long, painful, discouraging and tiring journey.
PLEASE understand the dangers of paintball guns! They are not a toy . . . they are a weapon . . . and
they can cause serious damage. Why risk the gift of sight? I am writing this in the hopes of
educating a parent or guardian, so a tragedy like this never happens again. Shooting paintballs at
unprotected people is stupid, dangerous and irresponsible. I constantly hear many people say that
paintball guns are very safe if used with proper protective equipment. With our situation, we are in
contact with many eye doctors who have told us of the increasing numbers of injuries from paintball
guns. Because new guns have the ability to "crank up the power," some protective glasses have
shattered at close range, causing blinding injury. Many shooters also freeze the paintballs, allowing
them to exit the gun more smoothly, but also making them more prone to cause damage. An eye
specialist gave a recent example of a player that raised his glasses momentarily to wipe away the
fog . . . and "POW," another serious injury to an eye. We also met a 26-year-old man at the eye
center who had accidentally shot himself in the eye, thinking that his gun was on safety.
At this point in time, Hailee has only slight detection of movement at close range in that eye. Only
time will tell what, if any additional vision she will regain. Parts of her retina were completely
destroyed during the impact, causing irreparable large blind spots in her vision. Because of her
injuries, Hailee will be at higher risk for early glaucoma. The next option is the possibility of a
cornea transplant, but more time and healing is needed before that can be considered. Some days are
harder than others, but she tries to maintain her positive attitude. We are thankful that she still has
her eye and understand that there is always someone out there who is dealt a tougher hand. The
doctors in Salt Lake City have seen nine serious paintball-related injuries since Hailee's. They
consider her to be one of the lucky ones. Several doctors have said to us, "these types of injuries
never turn out good."
It is very important to thank all the great doctors, nurses and specialists who have cared for Hailee.
Special thanks to Doctor Rhagu Murthy at the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, as well as Idaho
doctors Gregory Kent and Leo Harf. Doctors Alan Crandall, Paul Bernstein, and Randall Olsen at
the Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City are like family to us. These doctors are fantastic
professionals, friends and true heroes in our eyes.
Please understand the dangers of paintball . . . and please keep Hailee in your prayers.
Proud Father of Hailee
Update: January 30, 2005
At least for the time being, Hailee has made her last trip to the Moran
Eye Center in Salt Lake City. She has reached a point where there
is nothing else that can be done to improve her vision. It was initially
hopeful that a fourth surgery and a corneal transplant would improve
vision, but this has been ruled out because of the severity of her
injuries. We pray for future advancements in the medical vision field.
Hailee completed a successful volleyball season as the starting setter
on the Varsity team. She is now finishing her Junior season as a
starting guard on the Varsity basketball team. Basketball has been
the toughest sport to date, as peripheral vision and depth of field is
so critical. She must wear goggles at all times to protect the good
eye. In the spring she plans to compete in Varsity softball and rodeo.
She continues to be a competitor!
I am so proud of Hailee!! It has been very tough on her both
physically and emotionally, and she has been so courageous. She is
such a role model. As I write this update, I have tears streaming
down my face. Life is not always fair...
Update: February 20, 2006
The comeback story continues. Hailee had an excellent Senior season as the starting
setter on the Volleyball team, garnering first team All-Conference selection as well as
being chosen to play in the East-West All Star game. Quite an accomplishment for
what she has endured. Her "handicap" does not keep her from excelling in her sports.
Her aggressive play continued on the basketball court as the starting point guard. She
is fun to watch with her quick speed, fiery defensive play, outside shooting, and
dribbling ability. With her "goggles" on, she can handle the ball left or right handed with
ease. Hailee was directing her team in the first game of the District Tournament, when
part way into the second quarter, Hailee came down on her leg and received a season
ending ACL knee injury. As if she has not been through enough.
On Februay 9th, 2006 she underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair her torn ACL.
Doctor Michael Gustavel at the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute performed the surgery
on her right knee. Tissue from her hamstring was used to replace the ACL ligament.
She also had some meniscus damage. The surgery went well.
Recovery from an ACL injury is a long process, with strenuous rehabilitation. Nine
months to a year before complete recovery. Her softball season is out of the question
as well as her goat tying (rodeo). She had high hopes of making it to the State Finals in
goat tying. She hopes she can persuade her doctors to let her begin team roping and
breakaway roping in the next few months. As a father, it hurts to see your daughter go
through another serious injury, both physically and emotionally. Her response..."suck it
up, Dad". Please keep Hailee in your prayers...
Update: June 10, 2007
Hailee's knee has healed 100%! She exercises and runs almost daily, and team ropes. She just
completed her first year of college at CSI (College of Southern Idaho) and made the Dean's List! Now that
her knee has recovered, she may try to compete again at the college level. Her eye...remains the same,
with no improvement. Some white scar tissue has formed in the center of her eye. She is now 19 years
old and her bubbly personality and positive outlook on life continue to impress me. I do not know how to
truly thank all of the people who have supported her and responded to this story via e-mail. The words of
support have been so meaningful. Thank you...
Update: May 14, 2011
Hailee graduated from Lewis & Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. She graduated with highest honors,
"Summa Cum Laude", receiving only one A- during her studies at the 4 year college. Her major was in Kinesiology,
she is currently a personal trainer at a local YMCA, and she loves to team rope in her spare time. As noted above,
her eye still shows no improvement, but as she looks forward to her 23rd birthday, she is still her happy and positive
self. We are so proud of her...
|Hailee with her two brothers
at Christmas time, 2010.