By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 20, 2009
This could be a story about an ambitious Georgia Tech student, who with final exams behind him spends his summer focused on school and growing his business.
But it isn’t.
Patrick Whaley was shot. His plans for his college break were left behind May 4 as the ambulance worker scissored through his bloody T-shirt in a parking garage in Midtown.
The 22-year-old spent half of May recovering at Grady Memorial Hospital. His classroom this summer has been a rehab room where he undergoes physical therapy. His body is recovering from a 70 percent blood transfusion, broken ribs, loss of lung capacity.
Whaley has told the story a lot. He parked his mom’s black Yukon SUV in the garage at his off-campus apartment on 10th Street. Two masked men, with a third in a minivan, jumped him, guns drawn.
“At first, I thought it was a prank. I felt the barrel of the gun on the back of my head,” he said.
As they went through his pockets, they found his wallet, despite him rolling over on that side to hide it. He answered their demands with sarcasm.
“They didn’t really like me too much,” he said.
Whaley, who at 6-foot-4 looked down at the armed men, resisted being forced into the minivan. With his size and some martial arts he knows, Whaley believed he could disarm the man guarding him. He fought over control of the 9mm handgun.
“He slowly pulls the trigger back. I heard the safety click.” There was a brief struggle.
“I saw the gun go off. I didn’t realize I got shot,” he said.
The assailants fled with some $200 and Whaley searched for his cell phone. His lung collapsed. A “huge vise” squeezed his chest. He then saw a “silver-dollar size” circle of blood on his chest. But what he could not see was the blood covering his back.
It took more than three hours in surgery to repair the damage to his lung and liver. The damaged vein that returns blood from the lower body to the heart was left alone. Doctors believe that Whaley’s athleticism can help heal it.
His body is healing. The physical therapy helps.
Whaley’s shooting was the most serious in a crime spree this spring that struck several Georgia Tech students and others near campus. Authorities have since arrested three men in connection with Whaley’s armed robbery.
The son of an airline pilot father, Eric, and mother, Deborah, Whaley is the older of two children. He earned Eagle Scout rank, completing his project at St. Monica Church in Duluth and competed in high school swimming and recently body building. An engineering student, Whaley already holds a couple of patents for athletic clothing. He expects to graduate next summer. The family belongs to St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta.
Deborah, who goes by D.J., said she “prayed, and prayed and prayed” the night of the shooting. As she watched her son in the hospital hooked up to the respirator, he mouthed: “I’m so sorry.”
“He is determined to succeed. His ethics and his integrity have never been negotiable. He continues to live by the highest standard,” she said.
Whaley talked recently outside a coffee shop on Fifth Street near Tech. He was wearing khaki shorts and a blue shirt. A gold cross, a gift from his mom, hangs around his neck.
Patrick is living the lesson the family learned in 2000, when D.J. was severely injured in a car crash, said D.J., who used to volunteer as a religious education teacher.
“You cannot ask why. You have to play the cards you are dealt. You are to ask, what am I to learn? That is the question you have to ask,” she said.
Getting shot may make a person wonder why God didn’t stop the bullet or why it happened at all. But not Whaley.
“As an engineer, looking back on it, everything was absolutely beautiful. It was harmonic,” he said, repeating a phrase he has taken to heart. He called the May night filled with “peculiar grace.”
“God wants me to see the beauty, the harmony. It’s a peculiar grace,” he said.
A lot of his insights come from talks with Father Greg Goolsby, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The priest and the family were good friends even before the shooting.
“You can really see God was there,” Whaley said.
He looks at the night of the shooting unfolding and sees God’s hand at work: from the unknown couple who flagged down emergency workers to the highly skilled doctors and nurses at Grady that treated him, to his friends who gave him Superman underwear and T-shirts.
“It allowed me to approach life in a way that I have never before,” he said about his recovery.
That way is less hectic and more living in the moment.
“Getting shot really calmed me down,” he said.
The days are more peaceful now, and he wants to appreciate life.
“I’ll do what I can, but I won’t push it more than I should,” he said.
“There’s going to be trials and tribulations in life. Every person is going to have one. This happened to me.”