Nearly a year after being shot in the head, St. Charles County man considered a ‘medical miracle’

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ST. CHARLES COUNTY (KMOV) – A St. Charles County man shot in the head and left to die is making remarkable strides, leaving his doctors stunned by his recovery.

Chris Smith, 49, was shot in the head at point-blank range on Nov. 24, 2021, after returning home with Leslie Reeves 45, on their first date.

“As I was driving home from work, I passed my neighbor’s house and I just had a gut feeling, something saying, ‘don’t go out, stay home or go to St. Louis,’” Smith said. “The first time I don’t listen to my gut, this happens.”

Smith doesn’t remember much from that evening but said he went to a local bar in Farmersville, Illinois, with Reeves for a couple of beer. The two had exchanged numbers earlier that day.

A bullet remains lodged in Smith's brain following the shooting.
A bullet remains lodged in Smith’s brain following the shooting.(Sharon Costanza)

The pair returned to Smith’s home, but he has no memory of what happened next. Police later pieced together the events of the evening based on evidence at the crime scene.

“I guess when he broke through my back door I must have come running down or running into the kitchen and he gun whipped me,” Smith said.

Police said Robert Tarr, 49, shot Reeves, killing her. He is accused of then turning the gun on Smith.

“When I was on the floor, he shot me execution style in the head,” Smith said.

He said for the next 14hours, he laid helpless on his kitchen floor, bleeding and fading in and out of consciousness. It wasn’t until later the next day, which was Thanksgiving, that friends and family became worried after not hearing from Reeves or Smith.

“As the day went on, I felt it as a mom, my stomach…I said something is not right,” Sharon Costanza, Smith’s mom, said. “Something is wrong.”

When a friend asked police to do a welfare check at the house, they found Reeves dead and Smith clinging to life. He was evacuated to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.

“Even though we knew it was a single gunshot wound to the head, the outcome…we didn’t know what would happen because it was a devastating injury so we just wanted to give it our best shot to get him through the OR first,” said Dr. Chetan Gowda, MD “Then, we could get him to the ICU and continue to support him to get him through this.”

Dr. Gowda, a Springfield Clinic trauma physician, works as a hospitalist at HSHS St. John’s Hospital. He remembers his pager going off with Smith incoming.

“We had a 50/50 percent chance that he’d make it through,” he said. “We didn’t know which way it would go.”

Dr. Jose Espinosa, a neurosurgeon, successfully completed a craniotomy on Smith, relieving the brain swelling. After surviving the surgery, his prognosis remains grim.

“They told us he’ll never be able to do anything,” Costanza said. “He won’t walk, he won’t talk, he won’t smile, nothing.”

Weeks turned into months and as Smith was gradually weaned off sedation medication, his medical team started to see signs of improvement. His first memory comes from this past February when he woke up in the hospital element of why he was there.

“It’s crazy, it’s like a movie script,” Smith said. “It really is, or something you’d see on 20/20.”

Robert Tarr was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Reeves. He’s charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Smith.

On Monday, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department announced additional charges against Tarr. According to prosecutors, Tarr is now charged with two counts of solicitation of murder for hire. Prosecutors allege while in jail, he hired someone to kill Smith and a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy working on the case.

After regaining some of his strength this spring, Smith transferred his medical care to SSM DePaul in Bridgeton. There, neurosurgeon Dr. Victor Williams, MD, has successfully reconstructed Smith’s skull to improve cosmetic appearances and clear up an infection from a prior surgery.

“We didn’t know if he would survive this,” Dr. Williams said.

As Smith progressed, continuing his in-patient occupational and physical therapy, Williams said the prognosis continued to shift.

Smith said living his life in a wheelchair was a non-starter.

“I told him, you told the wrong person that he can’t do something because I’m too stubborn and I’ll do it out of spite,” Smith said.

Since then, Smith has completed his in-patient therapy and now works out and builds strength with his personal trainer at Club Fitness in O’Fallon. While he continues to have some paralysis on the left side of his body, he is working to strengthen both his left arm and leg.

Most surprising of all to his medical team, Smith is able to walk with the assistance of a cane.

“It’s what folks would call a miracle,” said Dr. Williams. “I think that it has been miraculous to see him go through this process, watch him recover and watch him work so hard at his recovery and for him to make the strides he’s ultimately been able to make has been very rewarding.”

Smith is looking forward to returning to some of his favorite activities, like playing golf and football. But first, he’s aiming to tackle everyday tasks with independence.

“Trying to brush your teeth, tie your shoes, everyday things we take for granted,” he said. “He took my life. He took my ability to be a normal human being.”

A group of Smith’s friends has organized a fundraiser to assist in his ongoing medical bills. It will take place this Sunday, September 25 from 12-3 pm at the Mellow Mushroom in Cottleville. Donations can be made by purchasing a raffle ticket for an all-expense paid trip to Rivera Maya.