Little Winnie toddled along holding the hand of her teenage aunt as they passed through the St. Paul hospital exit to the car waiting at the curb.

Thirteen-year-old Makayla Saulter-Outlaw was going home more than two months after she shielded niece Winnie from a neighbor's gunfire and suffered severe wounds to the back of her head.

Makayla is alternately heralded as a hero for saving 1-year-old Winnie from the gunfire outside the family's Bloomington home and as "Miracle Makayla" for being alive herself and on the path to what doctors have said is a rapid recovery.

"I knew she would get better," said Makayla's mother, Mildred Saulter. "I just didn't know when. The power of prayer is something else. ... She's come along a lot faster than the doctors expected."

Makayla walked briskly as she left Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul last week, no longer needing the wheelchair she had used for many weeks to get around outside her hospital room.

The only visual evidence of her injury is the plain white helmet she wears to protect the temporary gap in her skull that awaits restorative surgery.

On Makayla's 13th birthday in September, nurses at HCMC brought her outside in her wheelchair for a celebratory car caravan, complete with a cake, balloons and gifts.

Makayla, a paper crown atop her helmet and sporting a sash, was helped to her feet for a moment to take in the love shown from a distance because of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Now that she's home and moving under her own strength, Makayla's days are filled with much the same as many teenagers this time of year: school, video games and shopping for new clothes.

The seventh-grader keeps her mind off the night when, according to the charges, Jason Mesich came out of his home next door in the 8300 block of S. 15th Avenue on Aug. 30 and started shooting. Authorities say he then went into his garage and fatally shot his wife before a standoff with police ended with his arrest.

Also hit by the gunfire outside was 29-year-old Canisha Saulter, who is Makayla's sister and Winnie's mother. She suffered serious injuries to her hip, leg and ankle.

"I really don't think about it," Makayla said in reference to the horror of that night, all the attention her heroics have brought her and the many more months of recovery and therapy ahead.

Mom, however, offered more insight than Makayla was willing to share for now, saying, "She's handling it very well. She's a strong young lady."

Makayla did say her long hospital stay made her miss her own bed more than anything. And her family.

"We're a close-knit family," Mildred Saulter said, "and we believe in looking out for each other."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482