Teen with Half His Head Blown Off Miraculously Lives to Tell About It
Richard Gayle will never forget the morning of September 6, 2003. “We started painting the football field for the kids. The phone rang across the field, and I picked it up and a voice on the other line said, ‘Mr. Gayle, this is the Vidalia (Georgia) Sheriff.’ He said, ‘You need to get down here immediately.’ I could tell by the quiver in his voice it had to be serious. And I could just feel the air coming out of my body.”
The Gayle family of Lawrenceville, Georgia was a picture-perfect family. But that picture was shattered in the fall of 2003. Gip Gayle had just started college when he and a friend went dove hunting one weekend. They heard a flock of birds in the distance, quickly picked up their 12-gauge shotguns and took aim. His friend’s gun went off at close range, hitting Gip in the side of the head.
Richard and Beth Gayle and their son Taylor got in their car to make the five-hour trip from Atlanta to Savannah. “We prayed the whole way. We kept trying to get through to the hospital in Savannah, and no one would take our call, Beth says. “Finally, my father, who is a physician, was able to get through to the chief neurosurgeon there. He called us, and he said, ‘Your son is alive, but barely.’”
Dr. Donald Peck Leslie, the medical director at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, remembers seeing Gip for the first time after the accident. “He had literally hundreds of pellets in his brain substance, and initially had a very low Glasgow Coma score. He was in and out of consciousness,” he recalls.
“I can remember all the way down there, hearing my wife calling everyone and saying, ‘Please pray for our son. Please pray for our son,’ Richard says.
“’Please’ was one of the only words we could utter out loud; just ‘please.’” Beth’s voice was unsteady.
And Richard’s prayer was simple. “In my head I was thinking, ‘God, please keep him alive at least until we can get there.’”
When the Gayles finally reached the hospital, they realized it was as bad as they feared. Gip’s younger bother, Taylor, did even recognize him. “Obviously he was in acute condition. Very swollen, very bruised. He had bandages everywhere. He was kind of unrecognizable,” Taylor says. “And as a 14-year-old kid, that scares you at first.”
Beth remembers, “They told us that Gip had just been given his last rites by the chaplain of the hospital. Hearing that made it very real.”
Gip survived the next few hours, but the doctors said if he lived, he’d likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. Beth was devastated. “I can remember looking at Richard and saying, ‘Well, what are we even praying for now? If he does survive, it’s going to be horrible. I don’t want our child to suffer,’” she says. “And Richard looked at me and he grabbed me by the shoulders and he said, ‘We’re praying for a miracle. That’s what we’re praying for!’”
The Gayles began calling friends and family everywhere. “It wasn’t long before literally people from all over the world were now praying for our son,” Richard says.
Gip spent the next three days in a coma. Then a nearly impossible thing happened. He opened his eyes and spoke.
“Gip’s brain was destroyed, and a large portion of it gone, and filled with birdshot pellets,” Beth says. “So when my dad heard Gip speak his first words, and they were cognitive—‘How’s Yeller?’ Our dog’s name is Yeller—he fell on to the side rails. He turned and he looked at us and he said, ‘You do realize we’ve all just witnessed a miracle, don’t you? He just spoke with thought. Medicine cannot explain this.’”
Gip was later transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. While there, he suffered a number of complications. “He got an infection in his brain, MRSA, and after a couple weeks of saying, ‘Wow, you know, a miracle. He made it. He survived. He’s going to make it,’ and then to almost lose him again was very disheartening, and another test of our faith,” Beth says.
At the time, Dr. Leslie was not holding out much hope for Gip. “We actually witnessed several cardiopulmonary arrests,” he says. “He had to be resuscitated a number of times. He was rushed to emergency surgery a number of times.”
Though discouraged at times, they clung to each other and to their faith in God through it all. “I can remember like it was yesterday looking at Gip and thinking, ‘How are we going to make it?’” Beth says. “‘I mean, we’d never been tested like this.’ And it was like God put this thought into my head that said, ‘You know what Beth? It’s time to start believing what you say you believe.’”
“God was taking care of us even at that point. I think Beth and I and Taylor all felt a peace about what was going on at the time,” Richard remembers.
Eventually, Gip stabilized. He was hospitalized for six months and spent another three years in therapy. He had to learn to walk, talk, and function again at a normal level.
“At the time, I wasn’t really aware of how many people were praying for me, but I believe that’s what saved my life,” Gip says.
“I have had in 30 years many, many, many severely injured patients. I don’t think anybody can top what Gip overcame,” Dr. Leslie says. “His chances for surviving and for pulling through particularly to where he has come now, would be less than one-tenth of one percent. It’s truly miraculous.”
Beth says they couldn’t have made it without the ‘earthly angels’ who walked with them—people like Gip’s football coach and Young Life leader Chuck Scott. “Coach Scott was always there for my family,” Gip says “I didn’t know exactly how much he was doing behind the scenes, but I found out later he pretty much carried my family through the whole thing.”
Gip was wearing a hat signed by comedian Jeff Foxworthy the day he was shot. Not only did Jeff give him a new one, he dedicated a page to Gip in his annual “redneck calendar.” The entry for September 6 reads, “If you wake up from a coma and the first thing you say is ‘How’s my dog? You might be a redneck.”
Richard Gayle says of Foxworthy: “Jeff is not just a great comedian. Jeff also has a true heart for God. He’s been a huge friend to our family.”
Beth was so humbled by the love and support, she wrote And Then Came the Angels. She hopes to encourage people going through similar situations. “I felt really God-pressed that I needed to write this and I needed to glorify God through this, and help encourage others to do the same, and go to Him for help instead of relying on our human weakness.”
“This has really affected my faith by showing me first-hand how powerful God is,” Gip says. “This was an impossible feat for me to go from being shot in the head to getting through college, graduating and going out and living on my own. It’s just unfathomable how powerful He is and all that He has gotten me and my family through.”