Devonte Rhodes was shot in 2013 and treated for his injuries with the hope he would return home.
He never did.
Almost five years after an ambulance first took Rhodes to the University of Maryland Medical Center, he died there. He was 23.
“He just couldn’t heal,” said his mother, Kim Harris-Elbourne.
While the vast majority of the city’s gun homicide victims die immediately or shortly after being shot, there are a handful like Rhodes who spend extended time in hospitals receiving treatment for injuries that ultimately prove to be fatal — even years later.
Rhodes was 19 when he was shot on the morning of June 9, 2013 in the 1900 block of Wilkens Avenue in Carrollton Ridge, just blocks from where his mother still lives. He was struck multiple times in the torso and transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
The shooting left him paralyzed and he never fully recovered from his injures, Baltimore police said. Last month, a medical examiner ruled Rhodes’ Dec. 8 death a homicide. Homicide detectives are now investigating, police said.
Police department records show that since 2010, there have been between four and nine homicides each year that were caused by incidents in previous years.
While Baltimore has earned a grim reputation for its high number of homicides, the city also had more than 900 nonfatal shootings last year. Those victims can suffer injuries ranging from a wounded finger that may only require hours’ worth of treatment, to spinal injuries that leave victims like Rhodes paralyzed and head injuries that cause brain damage.
The most seriously injured are usually treated at Shock Trauma, one of the most advanced trauma hospitals in the country.
“People survive now that didn’t survive 20 years ago, 10 years ago,” said Dr. Thomas Scalea, the physician-in-chief at Shock Trauma, who was also Rhodes’ physician.
The large number of shootings and the specialized trauma care in Baltimore can result in more victims like Rhodes.
“That’s who we are. That’s what we do,” Scalea said of treating gunshot victims. “We have the ability to do some things that are not available in most places, and not available anywhere else.”
But gunshot injuries could leave surviving victims with a host of challenges, including potentially fatal risks of infection, internal bleeding and other complications. Those victims sometimes require numerous surgeries and are often re-admitted to the hospital.
An injury to the head or pancreas, for example, can require eight to nine months in the hospital with several reconstruction surgeries and extensive recovery time, Scalea said.
Once admitted, gunshot patients are often operated on, and then moved to an intensive care unit or a floor bed at the hospital. From there, they can be taken to a rehabilitation facility, or sent home, or transported to jail, Scalea said. If there are complications, they often return to the hospital.
“We see you back as often as you need to,” he said.
Scalea said he still treats patients who were shot 20 years ago.
He said he also often sees the mental toll the injuries can take on patients, who sometimes suffer from substance abuse issues after they are shot. Others struggle with depression and PTSD.
The families also struggle.
Harris-Elbourne recalled the difficult months and years following her son’s shooting. She said he had to be fed through a tube, but was conscious and could talk.
Though he survived, his mother said he still missed many family gatherings and holidays. He spent his 21st birthday in a hospital bed. He endured regular appointments for tests, therapy or X-rays.
But like many young people, he also loved to play video games, and often played a basketball video game during his treatment.
Watching her son suffer for so long wore on her, Harris-Elbourne said. She said the regular visits were difficult for her. She said it caused her blood pressure to rise, and her doctor suggested she not visit the hospital as frequently.
In between visits, she said she and her son talked daily on the phone when she gave him updates on his younger brothers and other family news.
Some days, their conversations deteriorated. “He had his days,” she said.
But Harris-Elbourne said her son knew he likely would not return home.
“He felt that it was over,” she said, but “he was holding on for me.”
Harris-Elbourne said she is struggling with how to remember her eldest son. She has become depressed and fearful. She said she wants to move out of the neighborhood where she has lived for years.
But, she now believes she has an opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a police officer. Harris-Elbourne, who works for a company that transports prisoners for the Annapolis Police Department, said she’s always wanted to be a cop, but felt she couldn’t apply for the job given her son’s previous run-ins with the law. She said he kept getting arrested for selling drugs.
Online court records show Rhodes was arrested multiple times for drug-related offenses, but the charges were dropped.
Harris-Elbourne said she implored her son to seek a different path for his life, but ultimately, she said, she felt helpless to stop him.
“He was 18. There was nothing I could do,” she said.
Despite her son’s transgressions, she said he cared deeply for his family.
“My son was just a loving, caring person,” she said.
During what turned out to be their last phone call in December, she recalled a bit of their conversation.
“I remember the last thing I said to him was I loved him,” she said.
Days later, Harris-Elbourne said, she received a call from a doctor telling her Rhodes had died.