Chicago program helping victims of violence recover, chart new paths

A hospital system with a team of violence recovery specialists is busy helping victims of crime get back on their feet and feeling safe. For most of the pediatric patients and their families, that means leaving Chicago.

Geri Pettis is a pediatric Violence Recovery Specialist for the violence program at Comer Children’s Hospital. She says sometimes her pager goes off multiple times a day, and when it does, it means another child has been wounded by violence in Chicago.

"You really have to take one patient at a time. Because otherwise, it would be too daunting. And then work would be too huge," said Pettis.

Pettis helps victims, like now 2-month-old Terriana Smith and her mom Tyeshia Banks, recover from physical and emotional wounds.

"This program has been by my side since day one. Day one," said Banks.

The mother and daughter first came to Comer’s on July 1, just hours after Terriana became the city’s youngest gunshot victim in recent memory. At just 4-weeks-old, she was shot in the head while sitting in a car seat in Englewood.

"When I turned around to see her, there was just like blood everywhere. I grabbed her and just held her," said Banks.

The bullet didn’t pierce the brain, but cracked Terriana’s skull. She is now recovering, but the shooting is a stark reminder for Banks, who was also shot seven years ago while sitting in a car in Englewood.

"I’m done, I’m completely done with Chicago. I thank the programs and hospital for placing me somewhere else," said Banks.


Through the Violence Recovery Program, Pettis is helping the family move out of Chicago, like most of her families are requesting.

"I would say, the past four or five months, everyone wants to leave Chicago," said Pettis.

During a pandemic, finding the resources to make this happen is not easy.

Pettis was able to partner with social service agencies to find housing for Banks’ family, and continues to check in and be a support for them.

The VRP program started in 2018 when UC Medicine opened its trauma center. So far this year, it has served 1,100 pediatric and adult patients.

Team members help victims of violence and their families with crisis intervention, safe discharge planning and resources for food, housing and even jobs.

"We call it God's work around here, typically, and truly," said Pettis.

Pettis would love for this program to not be necessary, but reducing the violence, she says, starts with basic building blocks of proper food, education and health care.

"With all those things in place, if we can get there, I think that we'll see the decrease in violence, but right now, we're just trying to affect our small corner of the world," said Pettis.

Pettis says her job also includes connecting patients to violence intervention programs. She says the reality is that there are repeat patients who have been injured in violence multiple times, and sometimes patients want to retaliate.

Pettis can help with the psycho-education they need in order to end the cycle of violence.