Mervin's Miracle: Shooting victim turns tragedy into victory

Published: Feb. 5, 2014 at 2:17 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A Westbank man who was shot and left for dead, then told he would never walk again, now hopes to inspire others to never give up.

Mervin Guillory says he didn't end up where he thought he was headed, but he's now right where he was meant to be.

It was 1994 at the Racetrac on Manhattan Boulevard - gas was a little over $1 a gallon, and business was booming.

"We did a lot of volume, cash only - no credit cards," says Guillory, who was station manager at the time.

Friday morning, Sept. 2, 1994, his life took an unexpected detour when Guillory went to make the morning deposit. He didn't make it past the front door of the Whitney Bank on Lapalco when a gunman demanded the $22,000 in his bag.

"As he approached me, he said 'give me the money.' He was very vulgar," says Guillory. "He asked for the money, and I said 'here, just don't shoot me,' then I turned around and he shot me in the back. At that time, six shots went off."

When he hit the ground, stray bullets hit 72-year-old Lillian Schnell inside the bank, killing her.

The robber got away.

Paramedics rushed Guillory to West Jefferson Medical Center with severe internal damage.

"It ended up knocking the vertebrae out of my spine, fragmentations fell into the spinal canal, tearing some nerves," recalls Guillory. "Because of the nerves that were torn, I couldn't urinate on my own and had a colostomy bag and they thought I would have that for the rest of my life. They said I probably would never walk again."

After several surgeries and months in the hospital, Guillory didn't know what was worse, the prognosis or the pain.

"I couldn't stand for the sheets to touch my body," he says, "That's how intense the pain was."

Perhaps even more intense was his determination to walk again. From West Jeff to Touro, he began intense physical therapy.

Guillory, once confined to a wheelchair, moved to crutches, then a cane, then started working out at the gym several times a week.

Today, he still uses a back brace while exercising, but he walks on his own.

"Today people say they can't see where I was ever paralyzed. By the grace of God, it was pure determination and wanting to press forward and not wanting to give up," says Guillory.

From tragedy came a miraculous recovery. But he knew it was not by chance.

"I was blessed. I always say when you go to the casino or you play the lotto, you're lucky. This was blessings," says Guillory.

He decided to pay it forward so he could help people who couldn't help themselves. In 2010, Guillory earned a nursing degree from Dillard University, and as fate would have it, the first job he took as a nurse was at West Jeff Hospital, the same place he was fighting for his life 20 years ago."

"Nursing, never would have thought it," says Guillory. "Never thought I would have been a nurse."

Today he works for A-1 Absolute Best Care, a home health care service on the Westbank. He oversees more than 100 patients and twice as many employees.

He sees it as his way of giving back.

"This is my opportunity to let them know I can give you a glimmer of hope. And that's what I tell each and every patient. Today is a different day. Let's look to tomorrow. Keep pushing. You have something to live for, even if it's for yourself, you have something to live for," says Guillory.

Much of Guillory's success lies in his outlook. He spent the last two decades focused on where he's headed, not where he's been. But he does occasionally think about who shattered his world in an instant.

The 1994 crime, as it turned out, was an inside job.

An employee at the gas station plotted the heist for weeks with, among others, 17-year-old Robert Bates.

Within 24 hours of the attack, police arrested Bates, recovered the getaway car, the cash and the Uzi used in the shooting.

Bates confessed, pleaded guilty, and in 1995, was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.

Guillory wonders if the man who changed his life has changed, too.

"He's having a miserable life going through what he has to go through," says Guillory. "And I'm pretty sure if there's ever an opportunity for the two of us to see each other again, I would love to take that opportunity to see where he is now and what he's doing and see how his life has changed."

Two other people were arrested in connection with the robbery portion of the crime: Bates' girlfriend and his mother. Both received jail time and have served their sentences.

As for Guillory, he hopes to one day write a book about how a bullet meant to kill opened a new chapter in his life instead.

"If I can just be a glimmer of hope for anybody, that's the whole thing I want to carry out. Just never to give up, never give up, continue to push forward in anything you do," says Guillory with a smile.