Healing is musical for woman shot through mouth

When the band director raised his baton, Lisa Long forgot about the bullet.

She let go all the memories of the country road and being scared and the fact that her two boys nearly lost their mom.

When younger, she had played her flute all over Europe as part of a traveling symphony. But on Saturday, performing with a community band at an Independence retirement home, she was right where she wanted to be.

She doesn't play as well as before. The bullet did too much damage to the nerves and muscles around her mouth.

But with practice, who knows? She just knew she had to play again.

She needed to control something.

She wanted to make something pretty.

On his way to work on a November day in 2009, Matthew Hlavacek listened to a story on the radio about a woman who had taken a mystery bullet to the cheek.

She was driving down a country road when a bullet — fired from a rifle a mile or two away — passed through her partly open window, ripped through her cheek, knocked out a few teeth, exited her open mouth and finally plopped onto the floorboard of her Ford Taurus.

Sounded at first like a really bad country song, Hlavacek thought.

But absolutely amazing happenstance. Perpendicular paths colliding at precise time and place. Speed of car, speed of bullet, trajectory, lay of land, wind, the woman's schedule, the shooter's breathing — and after all that the bullet finds a 6-inch-wide window opening in a car going 40 mph.

A few inches higher or lower and she could have been dead.

Beyond the freak odds, he thought of the woman. Lisa Long, a flute player. She was 33, the mother of two young autistic sons, and the only thing she did to get shot was drive down a country road after washing a sick aunt's dishes. How did those boys act, he wondered, when Mom walked in with a big bandage covering a hole in her face?

Then Hlavacek arrived at work. He got out of his car, leaving the story behind like the miles he'd just passed.

Or so he figured. Turns out he had driven into his own serendipity.

Later that morning, Hlavacek, a Lee's Summit doctor who specializes in facial reconstruction, got a call from a dentist friend, Hal Brower, who told him about a patient — a woman who was driving down a country road

She's going to need some major work, Brower told him. And it needs to be pro bono.

"Send her over," Hlavacek said.

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