This 32-Year-Old Gunshot Survivor Lived With Her Intestines Outside of Her Abdomen for Three Years
Takeyiah Reaves, 32, was left with a serious and disfiguring wound that changed her life and turned her into an advocate against guns.
On July 9, 2017, Takeyiah Reaves was standing in the doorway of a nightclub in Newark, New Jersey. It was just a regular Friday night out with friends, but within seconds it became the night her life was turned upside down—caught in the crossfire of a random shooting.
Reaves, now 32, was shot once in the right leg and once in the abdomen, resulting in life-threatening injuries. At the ER, doctors were able to tie off a vein and save her leg. But her abdominal injury was a lot tougher to repair. The bullet shattered inside Reaves’ stomach and caused so much damage, she’s had to live with her intestines outside of her abdomen for three years—protected only by a temporary lining doctors created out of skin grafted from her thighs.
Since that night, Reaves has endured several surgeries to fix the damage, putting her life at risk each time. “I’ve coded during each one,” Reaves tells Health. “I have over 50 scars on my body from all the surgeries.”
Last month, Reaves finally underwent an operation that put her intestines back into her abdomen. The surgery was a success, and now, she's waiting to have another procedure that will recreate the belly button she lost when she was shot.
The shooting changed Reaves’ life in innumerable ways. “I’ve dealt with so many obstacles, like learning how to walk and talk again,” she says. “To this day, I can’t walk too far or fast. I can’t carry heavy things or stand too long because my legs will give way. I get out of breath easily, which makes me feel like I’m having an anxiety attack. I feel dizzy and if I stand up I feel like I’m going to pass out.” She says she also became lactose intolerant because of the injury.
Reaves feels like the attack has deprived her of her youth. “I feel like my body is so old at times because I still go through so much pain,” she says. The effects aren’t only physical. She lost 4.5 liters of blood when she was shot and had to get 21 units in blood transfusions, which she believes has affected her memory. “I’m very forgetful, which my doctor said might be linked to the transfusions,” she says.
The mom of two (she has a daughter, Takiyah, 13, and a son, Takier, 11) has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I still have nightmares and hot sweats,” she says. “I worry about one of my surgeries reversing in the worst way—causing my death. And every time I sit by a window I think, What if a stray bullet comes through? Where I live, things like that happen all the time, but I still didn’t expect it. I didn’t live a lifestyle that would ever make me think, I have to be extra careful because I might get shot today.”
Reaves says she hasn’t been to therapy; she copes by putting her “faith before any fear” and tries to look for the positives in her situation. “God didn’t share a miracle to spare my life to take it away, and my journey is just beginning,” she says. After the attack, she went back to college and graduated with an associate degree in social sciences in 2019. In May 2021, she’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. After that, she wants to move to Georgia, where she has family, and hopes to attend graduate school at Clark Atlanta University.
Her ambitions don’t stop there. “I want to go for my PhD but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” she says. “I want to be a social worker and an advocate for children who lack mentors, encouraging them to strive and be the best they can be.”
A big part of Reaves’ journey involves using her voice to help prevent gun violence. “I’m completely against guns being legal. I want to see them taken off the streets completely,” she says. “Lives are still being taken by gun violence—the lives of daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers."
Reaves is involved with two nonprofit organizations. Bullets 4 Life takes live bullets off the streets and repurposes them into jewelry for survivors or loved ones of survivors, and Wounded But Alive is a support group for female survivors of gun violence.
“I want to be known for helping people grow through things I had to go through alone,” she says. “I want to spread love across the world, especially at times like this when there is so much hurt and pain."
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