Jeff Christerson, Aptos, CA

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This can’t be happening, I thought as I threw myself to the ground and shielded my girlfriend, Jenna, from the bullets that were spraying into the crowd.

Moments later, I was hit.

It was Oct. 1, 2017—the night that shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival crowd in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring 546 others.

I knew none of this at the time. My only thought was how to get our group through the crowd of 22,000 people to a place of safety.

It was the country music festival’s last night and I’d so far been enjoying the experience with Jenna and her family.

I heard a couple of popping noises which, at first, I thought were fireworks. As the sounds continued I looked around and saw someone behind me who had been shot.

That’s when I knew it was real.

When the shooter opened up on the crowd we all dove for the ground and yelled for everyone to get down. Jenna’s dad, Frank, her brother, Justin, and I all tried to protect the female family members.

I’ve never felt as hopeless as I did that moment while lying on the ground and attempting to comfort Jenna. I didn’t even think about praying; I just started doing it. Frank heard my fervent words and later told me that a calm came over him, which enabled him to start planning a way for us to escape.

In the pandemonium of that night it’s difficult to sort out what, exactly, happened in the next few minutes. We were lying on the ground for what felt like an eternity, but was probably about five minutes. We were positioned toward the front of the crowd and to the right of the stage, so at first there were too many people behind us to get away quickly.

I looked behind me to see if there was a clear path to run to safety, and then felt something strike my right ear.

I had been shot!

My mind raced: This is it.

In milliseconds I realized I wasn’t dead; but didn’t say anything at first because I didn’t want our group to panic. I finally reached up to feel the wound and said, “I think I got hit.” Though I was bleeding heavily, I could still think and move. It was time to run.

We waited for the next break in gunfire, then sprinted, shouting for everyone else around us to run. We made it about halfway through the lot before the shooter started firing again. Hiding behind a large tent in the middle of the venue, we waited for another break in the firing before escaping to a triage area in an empty parking lot across the street.

I was immediately met by Angie, a nurse who had attended the concert and who was helping treat the wounded as they arrived. She laid me down in the parking lot and applied pressure to my neck. I told her it was just a graze, but she was worried because it was close to many major blood vessels.

After a few more minutes, Angie made sure I got the next available ride to the hospital. I was led into a police SUV with three other injured men: a man who’d been shot in the hand, a young guy with a shoulder wound and a police officer who had suffered a bullet in the neck.

The hospital staff conducted an X-ray and CT scan. They discovered the bullet had passed through my earlobe, entered behind my jaw and traveled down my neck, stopping just a few inches above my collarbone. No major arteries or veins had been hit.

They called it a “miracle wound” and I was released from the hospital at 7 a.m. the next day to return home to California with Jenna’s family. I had the bullet removed at a local hospital on Oct. 18.

I have undergone a complete physical recovery and have full motion in my neck. The psychological trauma is getting better with time; I hope someday it will be a distant memory.

Through it all, God taught me the power of prayer.

I have a long list of people who have my gratitude. I’m incredibly thankful for Angie and everyone who assisted the wounded that night. The first responders, doctors, nurses and officers helped save many lives.

I also want to thank my family, friends and church family, who surrounded us with love after such a disturbing experience. People all over the world were praying for us, and a church in Virginia even “adopted” us by enveloping us in prayer and encouragement.

Even though my medical treatment was performed free of charge, I’m thankful that my dad told me about Christian Healthcare Ministries. I joined in early 2017 because I felt that this ministry is where I can best help and be helped by other believers in time of medical financial need.

Finally and most importantly, I thank God for giving me a second chance at life.

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