How a night of gun violence made Lisa Williams a healthcare advocate

Lisa Williams' story first aired at Out of the Loop season 3 in July 2020.

Hello, I’m Lisa Williams. In Texas 3,139 people are killed each year with a gun, according to the Poynter Institute. That comes out roughly to one death every 2.8 hours. The burden of gun violence in Texas falls disproportionately on communities of color. The Center for American Progress says 12% of the state population is Black, but about 36% of our state gun homicide victims are Black.

I never dreamed gun violence would touch me, until it did. On Monday, April the 10th, 2012, exactly at midnight, I was home asleep, and the phone rang. I heard the voice of my daughter’s boyfriend.

“Lil Mama has been shot.” He was calm. I replied, “What hospital?” I’m a nurse for Aquinai — I’m used to the sight of blood; I know how to respond to an emergency as a health professional. In my mind I said, “Let’s go.”

My son called en route and told me what happened. My 22-year-old daughter Celissa and her boyfriend were going to pick up her cousin. After passing Wally’s on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a car pulled up beside them and started to shoot several times into the vehicle. After the shooting, they drove to Bunny’s gas station on FM 14 and Loop 323 where the police were called.

My mom and I raced to Tyler hospital and hurried through the hallways.

I rushed through the sliding doors of the emergency room. There, crowded in every green chair around the room were young people — Celissa’s friends and acquaintances. Every face stared as I hurried to the desk.

One nurse said, “There’s a young, Black girl there with a gunshot calling for her mama.” At that moment, the seriousness of the situation began to creep in.

Celissa Williams and her daughter, Caleigh Williams, in 2020. 📷 courtesy Lisa Williams

I was allowed to go to the back to be with her. There Celissa was, so full of blood. I grabbed towels and began to wipe, and I wondered, “How many times has she been shot? Where are the gunshots?” I felt helpless as my daughter was telling me what had happened, and she didn’t do anything to harm anyone.

Her eyes were open and tears were flowing down her face in a hospital gown with monitors and IVs hanging. I just couldn’t stand to see the blood. I wanted my baby to be nice and clean. The blood resonated pain in my mind. I felt if she was clean, that would ease the pain.

I looked at the tears from her eyes and I heard a soft voice say, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

The first physician entered the room. His voice and demeanor kept me calm. He explained to me that my daughter had been shot with a .45 caliber in her right arm. He said a surgeon would remove a vein from her leg and do a surgery to save her arm.

Then, things got worse in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Minutes later, the surgeon came in the room. In a loud voice, he said, “This is what happens when you get shot. When you wake up, you might not have an arm.”

I was devastated that the physician said this in front of my daughter. It seemed like he was blaming her for a terrible thing that happened to her, and she was an innocent victim. I just couldn’t help but wonder, If she wasn’t a young woman with tattoos, especially a young Black woman, would he say those things to her?

Now, before you think I’m making too much of this one, inappropriate mark, let me remind you of three things:

That’s my baby lying there on that stretcher injured and in danger.

Also, I’m a Black woman from Tyler, Texas. I know what color you are can determine how you’re being treated. I felt as though he thought she was trash. However, she’s a child of God just like everyone else.

Did the surgeon know that she was attending college? Did he know she didn’t have a criminal background?

Also, as a healthcare provider, I didn’t think Celissa would receive proper care because the physician didn’t think she deserved it. My daughter was not involved in any crime. She was an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting.

We later learned that the young man was shooting her boyfriend. It was over a basketball game, and she just happened to be in the car.

As a nurse, regardless of your age, religion or race, you’re treated with respect. That determines how you heal physically and mentally. In my profession, I advocate for the vulnerable, children and disabled people.

Bedside manners is one of the most important things in the health care industry. The way you treat patients determines their outcomes. The Institute of Medicine’s equal treatment report says in the United States, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive preventive medical treatment than whites, often with lower quality care. The report even took into account income, neighborhood, co-morbid illnesses and health insurance type. Health outcomes among Blacks are still worse than whites.

So when I heard the doctor make this statement, I whispered in Celissa’s ear. And I said, “God is in control.” And I asked God to come in the room and let his will be done, not man’s will, but his will in the name of Jesus.

I knew I had to keep calm to keep her calm.

Also, I took action. I had a conversation with the surgeon. I was now worried about the quality of healthcare she would received, so I used my nursing skills to check her levels, her medication and treatment plan.

Celissa Williams. 📷 courtesy Lisa Williams

Fast forward, the surgery was successful. What could have happened if I have not been there as a advocate, a parent and experienced nurse?

That’s why advocate for others. Regardless of who you are and what you look like, healthcare is a right.

My daughter now experiences depression from time to time. She had a vein removed from her leg and placed in her arm, and she has a chronic pain condition.

Tyler hospitals are good places. I believe that, or I wouldn’t be a nurse.

Our hospitals need to know what’s working and what’s not working. What you report as a patient or a visitor matters. Filling out surveys matters. I hope for Tyler hospitals, anyone that enters has a great experience. Even more, that Tyler residents have a great experience as a human being.

As an advocate, I learned you never know what people are going through. Stereotypes and judgements create barriers.

I know as a nurse and a Black woman watching the Black Lives Matter movement surge into our nation and town.

Lisa Williams is a Tylerite of 50 years and a LVN Field Nurse for Aquinai Homehealth Company. She is president of Black Nurses Rock Tyler, Secretary of NAACP, a member of AKA sorority, and board member of Keep Tyler Beautiful, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and BancorpSouth Bank. Lisa is also a member of Leadership Tyler Class of 33. In Nov. 2021, she received her Masters of Science in health education and promotion. About her family, Lisa says, “They are my everything.”

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