Louisville Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel and Officer Nickolas Wilt fist bump as Wilt leaves Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in late July after being injured in the April Old National Bank mass shooting. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd).
Louisville Metro Police Officer Nickolas Wilt headed home Friday for the first time in months.
Waiting for him: his own bed and a much-anticipated steak dinner.
He rolled out of Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in a wheelchair around noon, past smiling scrubs-clad staff, police officers, politicians and members of the press.
Before exiting the building, he gave a fist bump to a smiling Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel.
Wilt’s survival and physical improvement is, doctors said Friday, miraculous. He took a gunshot to the head on April 10, while responding to a shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville during his fourth shift on the force.
“I’ll be honest, I was surprised they were able to get Officer Wilt off the table that first day after what I saw,” said Dr. Jason Smith, UofL Health’s chief medical officer. “The fact that they were able to do that, to start this process, is a miracle in and of itself.”
Wilt was one of nine people injured at the bank after a gunman brought an AR-15 he bought legally into his place of work and killed six of his coworkers. Wilt’s field training officer, Cory Galloway, killed the shooter.
That community support helped with Wilt’s recovery, Dr. Darryl Kaelin, the medical director at Frazier, said. He also showed an “incredible will to survive.”
Wilt’s brother, Zack, said that he eagerly does his physical therapy.
“It’s a long road, it’s a marathon,” Zack said. “But Nick, every single day, has been ready to go.”
He also has the support of a family that is “aggressive” in their fight for him and his improved health, Chief Gwinn-Villaroel said.
“They’re strong,” she said. “They have a pitbull mentality. They are just aggressive in their need and their desire to get better.”
They’ll need that mentality in the coming months. Kaelin with Frazier Rehab said that Wilt will begin outpatient therapy next week – five days a week.
The therapy will include walking, arm strength, self care rehab skills like bathing and dressing, cognitive therapy for improved speech and memory, and more.
Beyond the physical, it will take time for the mind to heal, said Smith.
“It’s a long process, the psychological toll things like this: the idea of removing your safety,” Smith said. “It’s difficult to reestablish that. And it can often take months, if not years, to come to the realization that: ‘this isn’t going to happen to me again.’ That: ‘statistics would say I’m not going to undergo a gun violence episode again.’”
‘Make gun violence a plague of the past.’
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg took the opportunity to again condemn gun violence. Right after the mass shooting, he said the state should let the city make its own policy choices around guns.
After the mass shooting, 16 Kentucky Democratic lawmakers proposed policies that they believe could help curb gun violence. They included red flag laws, voluntary “do not sell” lists for suicidal individuals and more. They hope to bring forward legislation to match the policies next session.
Their Republican colleagues, who have the legislative majority, were largely silent about any potential legislation surrounding guns. Republican primary candidates for governor, however, denounced gun control efforts.
Daniel Cameron, the primary winner, previously said that “The Second Amendment is sacrosanct” and that it needs to be protected in Kentucky.
“Let’s never forget, and let’s take action together,” Greenberg said. “Let’s fight to protect officers like Officer Wilt who can work every day to save others; let’s fight to protect every child, every son and daughter across our city from the fear of gun violence. And let’s fight together to make gun violence a plague of the past.”
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