Josh Vadell: A Shot in the Head That Turned Into a Shot in the Soul

Some wounds take longer to heal.

“I didn’t know I was shot but I remember everything” Josh Vadell

Atlantic City, New Jersey will be seen by most as the home of casino gambling and gaming. The lights and glimmer of the casinos where hopes and dreams can be realized and disappear within hours of one another. A city of immense possibilities and so much tragedy all rolled into one. What very few realize is that Atlantic City, while it is incredibly diverse, is one of the more dangerous cities in America. The Atlantic City Police Department is tasked with protecting the citizens of this shore town to the best of their ability.  As every police officer in every town, municipality, or city knows, no matter the danger, no matter the population, at any moment, you could be called onto action, putting yourself in the hazard that results in a life or death situation.

Growing up in Atlantic City connected Josh Vadell to serve his community in the best way that he knew how, by joining the Atlantic City Police Department, it was his choice to give back in a matter that best fit his personality. Josh is in shape, tactically sound, and civic minded taking on this profession but never forgetting the gravity and responsibility that accompanies Police work.

In 2016, Josh had been on the Atlantic City Police Department for approximately 10 years. Living a purpose driven life, Josh was deeply connected to this job. He would take the time to prepare with his partner, running through different potential scenarios and situations with the sole purpose that they would make it home alive to see their family.  

Life appeared to be on cruise control and going very well for Josh. His wife, Laura, of 10 years, two young children, and one on the way were his main responsibilities and reasoning behind his desire to be prepared for any situation that came his way. 

On September 3, 2016, Josh‘s life and the lives of his family, took a very quick and unexpected detour.   Laura Vadell was at home, taking care of her two small children while carrying her third. A knock at the door, startled her awake. As she came downstairs to a sea of police cars.  The instant anxiety, knowing that her husband had been at work that evening struck like a lightning bolt. Laura was directed to accompany the officers to the hospital immediately because her husband Josh had been injured.

Josh and his partner had been on routine patrol that evening. Staying hyper vigilant, always looking for ways to best serve their community through protection.  What Josh was unaware of was that rival drug dealers had been in town, looking to make some quick money by stealing from others who were dealing the same drugs. There is no honor amongst thieves, but only opportunists looking to capitalize on the complacency of others. In the parking garage of one of the casinos, they put their plan into action and turn the predators into prey.

Josh and his partner by chance pulled up and interrupted this active violence at either the right time or the wrong time depending on your perspective. Shots rang out and before he knew it, Josh was on his back. One of the criminals’ rounds had struck Josh on the right side of his head, knocking him to his back. Ever the police officer, Josh attempted to grab for his weapon with no success. He could hear gunshots ringing out all around him, but couldn’t understand why he was laying on his back. His partner comes into his field of vision, asking Josh if he was OK, then hearing the dreaded words called out over the radio, OFFICER DOWN, SHOTS FIRED.

As Josh tried with all his might to move,  and his partner trying to stabilize his wounded brother the cavalry began to arrive. Rather than wait for medics to arrive on scene the officers on duty that night chose to pick Josh up and take him to the hospital themselves. Josh fought them the entire way, not understanding what was going on. He didn’t even know he was shot, furthermore he couldn’t understand why somebody else was driving his car other than him. With an injury to the head, such as Josh’s, second count, and the officers on duty that night sped quickly for medical attention.

Finally at the hospital, the nurse tells Josh, sir, you’ve been shot. Josh’s response was surprise asking where he was shot. The nurse quickly replied you’ve been shot in the head. The next words out of Josh’s mouth are chilling, “please don’t let me die. I have a baby on the way.”  The adrenaline begins to wane as Josh became very cold. Physiologically Josh is dying from blood loss.  

With his wife Laura in the waiting room, praying, hoping to hear any positive feedback from the doctor, finally after hours and hours in surgery the doctor comes out and says that he is out of surgery and he is alive.  Now begins the long road to recovery as Josh has to relearn every movement that we take for granted every single day.

Learning how to walk and move around. Missing the birth of his third child while he was in recovery. After Josh is finally stabilized, he is emotionally transported to a rehabilitation center to relearn and recover being wheeled out amongst the sea of officers, this time out of respect rather than when they met Laura at the door that fateful night.  You can witness the gratitude as a video chronicles Josh’s hand raise and give a thumbs up an emotional salute.

Although the road to recovery for Josh was long and arduous, he is a fighter, he is resilient and was able to return home to his family. One would think that the fight, at least the worst of the fight, was over, Little did Josh know and little did his family know that the fight was just beginning.  As he began his road back to his family, he noticed that his personality had changed. He was missing a good portion of his brain which could’ve been the cause or possibly the severe trauma that he experienced left him with post traumatic stress. 

Josh felt like a burden to his family. Contemplating suicide on multiple occasions. It wasn’t until a visit by his retired deputy chief, and friend William Mazur came to visit one day and took Josh to lunch that he noticed all the signs were present. Josh was not doing so well mentally and was fighting just as hard to get back to where he was. Josh, are you OK, this loaded question hit Josh like a hammer, finally breaking down to his friend saying he was not.

It was time for Josh to get the help that he needed.  Being accepted into the Acadia Mental Health program at Sierra Tucson, Josh began to make his road home. His powerful story became an inspiration to those he lived with in his time away. This inspiration continues to this day through his amazing keynote speeches around the country.

Not all wounds are visible, even if the ones you see are jarring to the eye. Starting a nonprofit, the Josh Vadell Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to offering financial support to police officers critically injured and people in need from their community, Josh is able to pay back by paying forward. His strength and resiliency is a beacon of hope to those with a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress, or surviving in what seems like a hopeless world. Josh stands as an example that you are able to overcome odds that you may see as insurmountable.

Watch Josh’s Story on The Suffering Podcast

Kevin P. Donaldson
Kevin P. Donaldson

An accomplished author, seasoned Motivational Speaker and Podcast Host, Kevin P. Donaldson is known for transforming the lives of audiences. His talks are attended by people of all ages and backgrounds. Kevin's approach toward finding success and healing is approached by embracing your pain and running toward it head-on.

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