Jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins was thrilled to welcome his first baby with girlfriend Harmonese Pleasant when she was shot outside of their New Orleans home
Harmonese Pleasant was weeks away from welcoming her first baby with jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins when she was shot outside their New Orleans home. A single bullet hit both mom and baby, but they survived. One year later the couple are determined to help their daughter thrive. They have a GoFundMe account to help pay for baby Blossom's ongoing medical expenses and to create a wheelchair accessible home.
Jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his girlfriend Harmonese Pleasant were eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child: They'd just celebrated with a pink-themed baby shower, readied their New Orleans home and set up a birthing pool for the baby's expected arrival in three weeks' time. "We were just too happy," says Ruffins.
But everything changed on the evening of March 24, 2022. After the musician left to open his nearby New Orleans bar, Pleasant was chatting on the phone in front of their home when she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her belly. "I looked down, and all I saw was blood," she says.
She had been hit in the abdomen by a single bullet that seemed to come out of nowhere. The bullet pierced Pleasant's uterus and struck the nearly full-term baby girl, whom they would name Blossom. "Blossom basically blocked the bullet from wounding Harmonese more," says Ruffins, 58. "She came into this world and saved her mom's life."
Over the past year Pleasant, 30, has made a complete recovery, but Blossom has had a tougher journey. A bullet fragment passed through her spine, striking her spinal cord, causing injuries to her lung and puncturing her kidney, where the fragment remains. (Doctors say it is stable and doesn't need to be removed.) Now 13 months old, Blossom is "making progress" with a team of rehabilitation specialists and neurosurgeons, Pleasant says—but it's unclear if she'll ever be able to walk.
Still, Blossom gives her parents hope every day. "This little girl is a bundle of joy," says Ruffins, a New Orleans fixture who earned wider acclaim in 2010 with a recurring role playing himself on the HBO series Treme. "She's laughing and playing all day long. Looking at Harmonese and Blossom every morning is the biggest blessing."
In the terrifying moments after the shooting, the musician feared he might lose both. When she first saw the blood on her abdomen, Pleasant didn't know what had happened. "I just knew I was hurting," she recalls. "I was in so much pain." Panicked, she called Ruffins. "All she did was scream," he says. "Our house was just around the corner, but that was the longest ride of my life." When Ruffins arrived, Pleasant was lying on the ground with two family members who live nearby at her side. "I raised her shirt and saw a little bitty hole and said, 'Did you fall?'" Ruffins says. It wasn't until they reached the hospital that doctors realized it was a gunshot wound.
After an emergency C-section, Blossom was flown immediately to Children's Hospital New Orleans via helicopter, where she remained in the NICU for a week. "I remember walking into Children's and not being able to compose myself, to stop crying," says Ruffins, who was the first to see Blossom. "Then the nurse told me she probably will never walk. I lost it after that."
Because they were in separate hospitals, mom and baby had to meet over FaceTime. "I was happy to actually see her but upset that we didn't get the skin-to-skin contact that baby and mother need," Harmonese says. "I was angry about what happened hours before and numb and hurt over it too. When doctors told me she wasn't moving her legs as she should be, it was like a stab in the heart."
Since the shooting, occupational therapists have worked Blossom's muscles to ensure they don't contract from lack of use. The couple, who met in 2021 at Ruffins's bar Kermit's Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge, have seen her wiggle her toes, but "her brain is not registering that she has legs," he says.
Doctors say it's too soon to know the extent of her injuries. "At this age there are a lot of things she can't tell us," says Dr. Fabienne Gray, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital who treated Blossom when she arrived. "There is a lack of sensation and motor usage [in her legs], and there's a possibility she could have some bowel and bladder issues later, but Blossom has done so well. We're very pleased with her progress." Still, she says, "the fact that Blossom was shot when she was a fetus is devastating. I think she will be dealing with the repercussions of this for the rest of her life." Pleasant, a former administrator who now cares for Blossom full-time, is confident her daughter will rise to the challenge: "She is so dedicated, so determined and so aware, and I think that will help her in the future."
As for Blossom's traumatic past, the couple still have no idea who pulled the trigger—police haven't identified a suspect, Ruffins says: "We don't know if it was a stray bullet. They think it might have been kids playing with a gun." The not knowing is hard, they say, but they're focused on Blossom.
A cheerful baby who loves to eat and watch The Princess and the Frog (a jazz-themed Disney musical set in New Orleans), Blossom is "blissful," says Pleasant, who together with Ruffins threw her a "Blossomfest" party for her 1st birthday. "Everybody in the community loves her. She's more famous than her dad now." She rarely cries—except when Ruffins plays the trumpet. "She gets scared to death," he says with a laugh. "But when that damn alligator plays the trumpet in Princess and the Frog, she's jumping up and laughing! I don't understand that!"
He's hopeful her appreciation for all music will only grow. "I'm going to get her the best teachers in the city to make sure she can write music, play music and do everything she needs to do to be a cultured young lady," Ruffins says.
For now the family have moved out of their previous residence and want to create a wheelchair-accessible home. "We have a long road ahead of us," Ruffins says. "It's going to be a little rough, but we are so optimistic."
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