Three Decades of Gratitude: School Shooting Victim Recalls Her Recovery at Cook Children’s
When we think back on some of the most memorable days in our lives, we often think of a baby’s first steps, an important anniversary or even a graduation. For Crystal Foster, one of the most vivid days to date happened on May 31, 1990. Crystal was in fourth grade at Sunrise Elementary in Fort Worth. She remembers her mom dressing her in a pretty, red dress, with red tennis shoes and walking her across the street to school like she did every morning. That Thursday was no different than the rest of the school year… until her life changed forever.
“We went to PE, and we were playing on the playground like normal,” Crystal said. “I didn’t know they were gunshots, the popping sounded like fireworks.”
On that fateful day, a car filled with teenage boys opened fire on the playground. When Crystal noticed a friend was bleeding, she ran over to help. Quickly after, another classmate told her that she too was bleeding.
“All I remember was my granddaddy being the first person there, and my mom was out of it,” Crystal said. In “Once the first responders got there, I was in and out of it.”
Crystal was rushed to Cook Children’s Emergency Department with a gunshot wound to her hip.
“We got to Cook Children’s and the hospital was amazing for us to be in such a trauma state,” Crystal remembered. “They made us feel like we were having fun in trauma if that makes sense.”
Crystal recalls the medical staff at Cook Children’s making her and her family feel like they were the only family in the entire hospital. “The nurses and the doctors made sure we were good around the clock. I have never seen anything like it,” Crystal said.
Still, Crystal’s mother was afraid she wasn’t going to make it. She remembers the fear in her mother’s eyes as doctors and nurses were yelling orders and pulling tubes. She says she kept repeating, “God you’re going to have to work this out and keep me alive.” Even at a young age, she remembers her faith playing a big part in the whole experience.
Crystal and her mother spent several days at Cook Children’s. Because of where the bullet went in her hip, doctors did not perform surgery because they were afraid it could do more damage than good. They worried she could be paralyzed from the waist down because it was so close to her tailbone.
“The bullet is still in me 31 years later,” Crystal expressed. “They kept an eye on it for several years to make sure it didn’t go near my tailbone or to see if it would surface, but neither happened.”
Crystal says she periodically still feels a sharp pain in her hip.
After the incident, Crystal did not return to finish her school year at Sunrise Elementary. Her mother, a police officer at the time, was afraid of anything else happening to her child. Crystal says it wasn’t unusual to hear gunshots in her neighborhood, and it took a long time for her to adjust to hearing the “popping” sound.
“It took a long time for me to get over it and suppress it in the back of my mind and for everything to be okay,” Crystal said. She spent several years in counseling to process the shooting, deal with sound triggers and move past the event.
Years later, Crystal became a wife, mother, and nurse. She credits the care she received at Cook Children’s to pursuing a career in nursing, as well as her love for serving others. She says her biggest challenge was overcoming the fear she had when her children started school.
“I feared my daughter going to school and something happening to her. Especially now that people go into the schools and shoot students,” Crystal said. “It was especially hard for her going into third grade. I started praying every day for God to protect her and I’m doing the same for my son now who is in second grade.”
Crystal says the increase in school shootings over the years does trigger flashbacks. She always asks the question, “How do we protect our children in school from the playground to the classroom?”
While her shooting was an isolated incident, she believes children in every community deserve better. She also says ‘thank you’ would never be enough for the staff at Cook Children’s that saved her life.
“I appreciate the care that was given to me and my mom,” Crystal expressed. “I’ve never seen a staff work in unison the way they do at Cook Children’s, even over the years when I’ve brought in my children. There’s a culture at Cook Children’s that can’t be beaten, they set an example of what all hospitals should be like across the country. The nurses and doctors care about their patients and that’s something I have always appreciated.”
Crystal says the care she received at Cook Children’s is something she has always reciprocated in her nursing career.
“I always think back to how well they took care of me, and I value that and make sure to model that in my work.”