In a recent attempt to wrestle a handgun from the hands of a suicidal person, a 34-year-old woman was accidentally shot in the chest by a single bullet. When she was taken to the University of Utah Emergency Room for her trauma, her chest CT scan showed evidence of a miracle: There was no penetrating injury to her thoracic cavity and no rib fractures, despite the fact that she was less than two feet away from the handgun.
Later, a plastic surgery team determined that the bullet passed through her breast tissue and then hit something unexpected: her saline breast implant.
Did her breast implants save her life? Or, more specifically, was it possible that the implant affected the bullet trajectory or velocity in some way? That’s the question that came up for Dr. Christopher Pannucci, the University of Utah plastic and reconstructive surgeon who worked on this case, and the inspiration behind his recent paper published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
“I think that all intriguing clinical questions come from patient interactions, and she certainly was that for me,” Pannucci tells Inverse. “The idea that a breast implant could save someone from, say, a car accident or a stabbing has certainly come up in popular media before. I hadn’t personally taken care of a patient with that experience before, and when this patient came in it really got me thinking about it.”
Spoiler alert: Pannucci did not find that breast implants can stop bullets. A breast implant may decrease the energy (speed) of a bullet, but that doesn’t mean that it will slow the bullet enough that it won’t penetrate a person’s chest or abdomen. Still, there’s a statistically significant difference (about 20 percent) in the bullet’s penetration distance when a saline implant is or is not present.