Everything would be OK, Jason Anderson said, just as long as he didn’t go blind.
Jason, 13, had just been shot six times — twice in the chest, twice in his cheek, once in the temple and once in the eye.
It was Oct. 13, another seemingly uneventful fall evening in State College. The powerhouse varsity football team had a home game it was expected to win and would do so with ease. Thousands of fans had packed Memorial Field. And among the fans, Jason, like so many other teenagers on a Friday night, wanted to hang out with friends and watch the team he wants to play for during high school.
Somehow, instead, he became the target of an intentional shooting, according to State College police, at about 9 p.m. on the same block as the stadium. Police filed charges against the 14-year-old shooter for aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment.
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The weapon used was an air gun, but from point-blank range, several metal pellets had broken the skin and were lodged in Jason’s cheek and temple. The pellet that hit his eye traveled farthest back, causing his eyelid to swell shut.
His mother didn’t realize at the time that his eye had been shot and thought it was the pellets in his cheek that caused the bruising. Upset, but still composed in a room at Mount Nittany Medical Center, Jason reassured her everything would be fine.
“He was so calm and so relaxed, and I guess he could see in my face I was a mess,” Jason’s mother, Amy Omo-Osagie, said. “I was trying to hold back the tears, trying to hold it together, because that’s what moms do. I guess he could see that. He said it was OK. He told me, ‘As long as I don’t go blind, it’s OK. Just tell them to fix my eye and as long as I don’t go blind, we’ll be OK.’ ”
About two hours later they were in an ambulance traveling to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville for emergency surgery. With his body going into shock, he would soon stop responding verbally. He did not know there would be nothing doctors could do about his sight.
Saving his eye
On Friday, Jason raised his right hand to his right eye — the one that was shot, the one he’s permanently blind in and the one he is still trying to save.
His hand turned outward at about a 45-degree angle, showing how much he can still see to his right.
The doctors can’t guarantee the 13-year-old’s throbbing headaches will go away without removing his right eye, but Jason has a few a things on his side. He’s got his family, a community that overwhelmed them with support and, perhaps most importantly, not a trace of bitterness.
“No matter what, you gotta be you,” Jason said. “Don’t let anything bring you down and try to smile so everyone else can smile, too.”
Amy was worried the news that he was blind in his right eye would crush his spirit, so she kept it to herself while watching him rest after five hours of surgery in the hospital. He wouldn’t be able to realize he was blind in one eye, she thought, because bandaging covered it.
Eventually the thought of not being up front seemed worse than telling him the truth.
“I didn’t want him to cry and get upset, because all he wanted was to not go blind,” Amy said. “The longer I sat there and looked at him the more I thought, ‘What kind of mother would I be if I don’t tell you?’ ”
She broke the news to Jason about 24 hours after the shooting, and he only responded that he still wanted to play football.
Amy said Jason’s “turning point” was at about 2 a.m. Oct. 15, about 29 hours after the shooting, when he wanted to go for a walk after sleeping for most of the previous day. They walked around the hospital’s hallways for about 15 minutes, the start of him relearning how to perceive his surroundings.
Physical therapists were brought in for his second day of rehabilitation, but he wanted to do things on his own. Doctors soon realized he didn’t need their help.
But the lingering effects of the shooting are sometimes uncontrollable.
His right eye still receives data, but can’t deliver information to the brain, creating a traffic jam of observations that can’t be processed. This causes headaches ranging from faint, 30-minute endeavors to daylong episodes that force him to sleep, take medication and repeat.
The only way to stop the headaches, Geisinger Danville doctors told the family, is to remove his eye. They will go to Will’s Eye in Philadelphia on Monday to learn if there are any other possible solutions.
“We’ll do everything we can to figure out his needs, so we have to go for a second opinion,” Amy said. “Maybe they’ll recommend something except removing his eye. Maybe he needs a specific medication or some type of sunglasses, something to save his eye.”
If he needs another surgery, the family might turn to another online fundraising campaign to offset medical bills. The first effort raised more than $29,000 on GoFundMe when Amy ended it. Somehow, she said, people are still getting their address and sending checks in the mail.
“I’m just really grateful for all these people and all they’ve done for me,” Jason said. “I didn’t know this many people cared, and they’ve helped me through this, so I appreciate everything.”
Pursuing his dreams
About 400 miles away from State College on Saturday, a college football player in Massachusetts taped his wrists and wrote Jason’s name and his No. 3 on it.
The bond Jason shares with Framington University wide receiver Khaneil Bruce goes beyond their love of football — they’re also a source of inspiration to each other.
Bruce was blinded in one eye in 2014 when he was unexpectedly shot with a BB gun. He learned about Jason’s ordeal on Oct. 17, four days after the shooting, and decided to encourage him to pursue his dreams.
“I told him it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning for him,” Bruce said. “This is part of his great story that’s going to be told one day. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but I look at it as a blessing and it’s only going to get better from here for him. So I just told him to have a positive outlook on it, because if I could do it, he could do it.”
Bruce, who lost sight in his left eye, had his best five-game stretch in his collegiate career since dedicating each game to Jason, hauling in 19 receptions for 253 yards and five touchdowns.
Plans are also in motion to get Jason on the football field in 2018.
He will run track in the spring to get in shape for football. He will wear at least a visor to shield his eyes. And he will likely play to the right side of the football on each down to view as much of the field as possible.
“He’s 13, and he’s got the same life and dreams,” Amy said. “He’s not going to let this hold him down. If anything, I see him striving for success even more.”
Jason’s dream is to be a doctor, most likely a surgeon.
A career performing medical procedures on patients might seem improbable, but he’s had his mind set on helping others for three years.
“When I was in school he would look at all my schoolbooks, because I was studying to be a medical assistant,” Amy said. “He’d sit and study with me.”
He also learned that a surgeon who grew up in Centre Hall was shot with a BB gun at the same age, lost his eye and became a doctor anyway.
“There have been other people in just as bad a situation or worse than mine,” Jason said. “It’s like, no one is happy in this situation. This is just sad, but I know if I smile and I’m happy I know (my mom) can be, too. And what happened has happened. I got shot. I got hurt. I have to deal with it, and it’s something that’s going to be with me for the rest of my life, but I’m not going to complain about it. I just want to make the best of it.”