Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When Michael Caster walked into the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1, he never would've thought it could be the last time he walked into any event again.
Caster, a 41-year-old medical staffer at Eisenhower Medical Center near Palm Springs, Calif., was standing with his girlfriend in the crowd, enjoying country star Jason Aldean’s set, and the next minute he was on the ground unable to stand.
Among the more than 500 people injured in the mass shooting, Caster took a bullet through his back as he shielded his girlfriend from the gunman’s fire. The bullet ripped through Caster’s lung, barely missing his heart, with a bullet fragment hitting his spine, instantly paralyzing him from the waist down.
“I just felt a large shock, and all of a sudden I was numb from the waist down,” Caster said.
After he was shot, Caster’s girlfriend, Tawny Temple, ran around frantically, looking for people to help. She assembled a few people and found a table, which they used as a gurney to get Caster to safety.
“I was able to grab on the top, and I was carried to an SUV,” he said.
While en route to Sunrise Hospital in a good Samaritan’s vehicle, Temple did all she could to keep Caster awake and aware.
“I was going in and out of consciousness, and she was talking to me,” he recalled. “She was keeping me there.”
When Caster arrived at Sunrise Hospital, the staff inserted tubes into his lungs to drain the blood and operated on him.
“They cut me open and began surgery right there,” he said. “They did surgery on my lung, closed up my lung, and I think they removed the bullet. The fragment that is in my spine is too risky to operate on.
“They said it would be more dangerous than good,” Caster said.
Caster said he has no feeling in his extremities from the bellybutton down, but doctors have yet to give him a long-term prognosis.
“It’s too early to tell right now,” he said. “Nothing has really come back yet. With this type of injury, it could take a little while.”
Caster says he has been keeping busy, staying focused on rehab and working for the future, and trying not to replay the event in his mind.
Caster says he’s grateful for family members, who repeatedly traveled from California to visit him in the hospital to keep him in good spirits, and Temple for all she has done for him since the shooting. “She’s amazing,” he said.
The country music community has rallied around victims. Aldean visited Caster, and Musicians on Call staged a four-act concert at Sunrise Hospital, which gave Caster and other victims a needed distraction.
“It was really nice,” he said. “It takes your mind off the now, and gives you a little time to breathe,” he said. “Definitely helps the healing.”
Caster has since been transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., where he’ll continue to recover.
“They specialize in spinal type injuries,” he said. “So, I’m hoping for the best.”