He was covered in another man’s blood, but former Lancaster Mayor Charlie Smithgall didn’t appear to have any major injuries after shooting an armed man who attempted to rob his city pharmacy last October.
As a precaution, emergency personnel took him to Lancaster General Hospital’s emergency room, just to check a hip bruised when Smithgall was knocked to the floor during the struggle.
Turns out, that decision might have saved Smithgall’s life.
An X-ray showed a possible bone chip on his hip. A follow-up CAT scan of the hip showed something concerning on Smithgall’s kidney.
And further testing confirmed Smithgall had kidney cancer.
Less than two months later, on Dec. 14, Smithgall underwent a 5 1/2-hour surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Robert Uzzo removed half of Smithgall’s affected kidney. Uzzo confirmed that the cancer was caught early, that it was encapsulated and had not spread, and that Smithgall would not need chemotherapy or other follow-up treatment.
There have been some other complications in his recovery but, today, Smithgall is recuperating and regaining his strength at home.
Before his surprise diagnosis, he says, there was never an indication anything was wrong with his kidney. And, he says, if doctors hadn’t had a reason to X-ray his bruised hip, or if they hadn’t questioned the results, his health may easily have gotten a lot worse.
Four Harrisburg men have been charged in the Oct. 23 armed robbery, according to newspaper records. One, Brandon Galette, was injured when Smithgall shot him, according to court documents. He was arrested shortly after the incident at the West Lemon Street pharmacy.
Galette and Johnny L. Straining Jr. allegedly entered Smithgall’s Pharmacy, 536 W. Lemon St., in the afternoon of Oct. 23, 2018, according to newspaper reports. The pair wielded handguns and threatened employees while demanding oxycodone, police records said at the time. Smithgall, who had a permitted gun on the premises, shot Galette once, then fired three more shots as he struggled with Galette over control of the weapon, according to charges filed by police. Galette allegedly took Smithgall’s weapon and fled, according to LNP accounts, but collapsed and was taken into custody near the scene.
Galette, Straining and two other men, Andrew Sterling Garrett and Lamar Black, have been arrested on a variety of charges linked to the incident. The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office announced in November that Smithgall would not face any charges.
When Smithgall was taken to the hospital after that Tuesday robbery as a precaution, he says, he didn’t think much of it. Further testing would wait until he could get an appointment — and his daughter, Allison, was getting married just four days later, on Oct. 27.
“That whole week was crazy,” Smithgall’s wife, Debbie, says now.
Their lives were about to get even crazier.
The day after Allison’s wedding was Debbie’s birthday. The following weekend, while the Smithgalls had hundreds of guests at their farm for a shooting event, Debbie was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room, and then intensive care, with a pulmonary embolism.
Since then, Charlie Smithgall has been in the emergency room twice more with some health complications — “I now have frequent-flyer miles there,” he jokes — but things have quieted down for them both since mid-January.
Christmas, Smithgall says, “went down the drain. New Year’s went down the drain.”
Smithgall’s main task now is to regain some of the 30-plus pounds he lost during a two-week period after twice developing a bacterial infection. “Everybody said I looked like death warmed over, but it’s starting now to get better,” he says. “The challenge is to eat enough.”
“Everybody says it saved my life,” Smithgall says of the chance discovery of the cancer. “I said it might have prolonged my life, because you all gotta go sometime — but, hopefully, not by kidney cancer.”
- LNP Staff Writers Lindsey Blest and Heather Stauffer contributed to this story.