It was still dark out the Tuesday morning in August when 3-year-old Darnal Mundy II scaled a chair in front of his dad’s dresser and opened the top drawer.
He was looking for an iPad. He found a gun and squeezed the trigger. With the barrel of the Smith & Wesson pointing directly at his face, a .40-caliber bullet struck between his eyes and exited the left side of Darnal’s skull.
Three months later, Darnal has made a stunning recovery. He walks. He talks. He smiles and giggles. He throws beanbags through a toy basketball hoop.
“He doesn’t ask me about home because they spoil him here,” said Darnal’s mom, Dorphius Jean. “I’m at a better place now. I feel like I failed my son.”
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“It’s a much quicker recovery than we had even hoped for,” said Dr. Sarah Jernigan, the UHealth pediatric neurosurgeon at Holtz Children’s Hospital who performed the brain surgery that saved Darnal’s life. “Because he’s so young, his brain has a lot of ability to re-wire.”
Jean says Darnal doesn’t remember what happened. She does — vividly.
First, she heard a bang. When she noticed Darnal wasn’t next to her on the bed, she jumped up and found him on the floor. Blood was everywhere. His cries gave her hope. Darnal’s dad, also named Darnal Mundy, picked up his son and raced out of the house toward the car with Jean following closely. She drove them to the hospital.
“I ran every light. I side-swiped another car. When we got to the emergency room the car was still running and his father jumped out,” Jean said.
Most visits to an emergency room aren’t as chaotic as they appear on television. Darnal’s visit was. Attendants rushed over and swept the little boy away. Jernigan got him into surgery immediately. Even the therapists, so instrumental in Darnal’s recovery, were already paying close attention. Three hours later the doctors told Jean that Darnal would survive.
“They said he’s going to get worse before he gets better,” she said.
He did. He was in a coma for three weeks. It was then that doctors removed a large section of Darnal’s skull from the left side of his head to allow for swelling. They pumped blood into him as fast as he was losing it.
Today, a horseshoe-shaped area of stitches about the size of a baseball mitt clearly shows where the piece of skull was that doctors removed from Darnal’s head. Screws and plates that will dissolve hold it in place until it reattaches naturally. A tube through his throat and into his trachea has been removed.
Darnal’s father bought a safe for his weapon and now disassembles it each night, Jean said. Police found no reason to press charges.
Though Darnal’s recovery has quickened the past two weeks, he still doesn’t have the full use of his right arm or leg. It’s the left side of the brain that controls speech and motor skills. For a while, Darnal wasn’t tracking visually well and wasn’t responding to directions. Now he is able to do both. He’s starting to eat by himself. He occasionally high-fives the therapists and his mom.
He giggles, a lot.
Darnal will turn 4 in less than two weeks. Doctors hope — and believe — he will be home by then. He wants to see Snow, the family’s 4-year-old American bulldog. He also misses his teacher Miss Janet at the Bethany Covenant preschool he attends in North Miami.
“It’s broken Mommy,” Darnal says to his grandmother Roselia Fatal, while adeptly pushing objects into matching slots on a table.
“Cows, right there Mommy,” he says grabbing a plastic one.
“Don’t take off my shoes,” Darnal scolds his mother.
Jean, a guard with Miami-Dade’s water and sewer department, and the child’s father, a fitness attendant on Fisher Island, have been at their son’s bedside every night and day the past three months. They have their own bed in room 258. It’s a room that has become all too familiar to a child who now longs for the outdoors and to play with friends.
“He’s escaping his bed. He’s starting to eat by himself. He’ll say, ‘Mommy, I want to go to the playground,’” Jean said . “I didn’t think he’d be sitting up and within a week, he was. Aug. 4 was a very traumatic moment in our lives.”