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01.12.2014 | Case report | Ausgabe 1/2014 Open Access

Journal of Medical Case Reports 1/2014

Atypical gunshot injury to the right side of the face with the bullet lodged in the carotid sheath: a case report

Journal of Medical Case Reports > Ausgabe 1/2014
Peter A Ongom, Stephen C Kijjambu, Josephat Jombwe
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1752-1947-8-29) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

PAO conceptualized the idea, wrote the manuscript, performed surgery and managed the patient; SCK conducted scientific editing and critical review of the manuscript for intellectual content; JJ co-conceptualized the idea, performed surgery and managed the patient. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Gunshot injuries of the head and neck from the AK-47 rifle (a common assault rifle, submachine gun type) are a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality among civilians in Sub-Saharan Africa. They may cause significant damage to the closely arranged structures in this region, and the bullet’s trajectory can be very difficult to determine. We present an unusual case of gunshot injury with an atypical bullet entry wound, profound injury to the face, lodgment in the right carotid sheath, and 'wandering’; a first of its kind in East Africa.

Case presentation

A 27-year-old African-Ugandan woman of Nilotic ethnicity was referred to the Accident and Emergency Department of a tertiary hospital in Uganda, having sustained complex injuries due to an inadvertent AK-47 rifle gunshot injury. The gunshot injury was to the right side of her face with a large ragged entry wound and no exit wound. Prior basic wound care and radiological imaging showed a comminuted fracture of her mandible with lodgment of the bullet in her neck, anterior to her sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae. Standard debridement of her wound was done. A computed tomography scan showed an apparent cephalad shift ('wandering’) of the bullet, leaving it lying partially anterior to her fifth cervical vertebra as well as within her carotid sheath. Other injuries were to her facial and trigeminal nerves, and her middle ear. The 'wandering’ bullet was successfully removed surgically. It had caused no damage to any part of her neck structure.


AK-47 rifle bullet injuries may present with uncharacteristically large entry wounds and cause complex structural injuries at the area of impact. The consequent trajectory is difficult to predict making regional examination and radiological investigations essential in management. Bullets may be retained, leaving no exit wound. Securing the airway, controlling hemorrhage and identifying other injuries are the first vital steps. This case illustrates all these interventions and the important decision to extract the entrapped bullet from the patient’s neck because it had started to 'wander’ and could have caused grave injury over time with further migration. Maxillofacial, plastic, trauma, general and military surgeons, otorhinolaryngologists and emergency physicians can gain from this experience because it calls for a multidisciplinary team approach.

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