Victims of LasVegasmassacre struggle to recover
LAS VEGAS— Diana Litzenberg was hiding under bleachers as bullets were bouncing around her on the Las Vegas Strip nearly one week ago.
When she saw a woman who had been shot staggering alone, Litzenberg stood up to try to help. Then a panicked man plowed into her, face to face, tossing her onto her back.
Litzenberg regained consciousness a few hours later at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. She was diagnosed with a severe spinal cord injury that resulted in partial paralysis to her left side, possibly the result of being trampled by the crowd fleeing the gunfire.
Now, like hundreds of others injured in a gunman’s attack on a country music festival on Sunday, Litzenberg wonders what it will take to regain her health, strength and emotional stability,.
“I am just going to push forward, and hopefully everything will be OK,” Litzenberg said, as she broke down during an interview from her hospital bed. “I want to just get back to the same happy person I was, and I don’t feel very happy right now.”
In addition to the 58 people killed in the massacre, Stephen Paddock’s attack left nearly 500 others with wounds ranging from burns left by passing bullets to debilitating internal injuries that threaten lifelong paralysis. The overwhelming majority of vic- tims suffered gunshot wounds, Las Vegas doctors say, while dozens of others were injured in the frenzied stampede that ensued.
Most of the survivors have been treated and released from eight area hospitals, returning to their homes, rehabilitation centers or hometown hospitals to continue their recovery. That has left the most debilitating cases behind. As of Friday evening, 78 patients remained hospitalized, including 34 in critical condition.
They are the ones facing the most precarious journey, attempting to recover from crippling injuries while their families juggle mounting medical bills and the emotional and financial toll of traveling from out- oftown to remain bedside.
For many, long after they leave Las Vegas, the recovery process will be grueling — measured in their ability to slowly regain basic human behaviors such as eating, walking and comfortably sleeping.
Natalie Vanderstay, for example, was shot in the stomach during the attack. On Thursday evening, her family became more confident of her eventual recovery after she went to the bathroom on her own for the first time since the shooting.
“Her organs started working again,” said her sister, Rachelle Vanderstay, adding that her sister hopes to return to Los Angeles for treatment closer to home.
Jeffrey Murawsky, chief medical officer of Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, said gun- shot victims’ ability to make a full recovery depends on where the bullet entered, how it bounced around the body, and a patient’s overall health before they suffered the injury.
In best- case scenarios, for patients who were only grazed by a bullet, as appeared to be the case for more than 100 Las Vegas victims, Murawsky said the injury is not much different from a laceration or mild burn.
A bullet that lodges in body fat without striking nerves, arteries, organs or the digestive tract can also heal relatively quickly.
But with Paddock firing high- caliber ammunition from military- style rifles, dozens of patients suffered severe damage to tissue and organs. They will face long recoveries, but Murawsky said many of them will also eventually make a full recovery.
But the most critically wounded patients may never make a full recovery, especially if they suffered trauma to their head, bowels or spine. Some patients will suffer from lifelong phantom pains.
“To heal the nerves in the pelvis are typically bad, and that can be very debilitating,” said Faran Bokhari, chief of trauma and burn surgery at Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago.
Doctors have told Litzenberg, 52, that she will need weeks or months of rehabilitation to see if her motor skills will return.
Litzenberg, from Orange County, Calif., works for a property management company while her husband works as an HVAC technician. She does not have health insurance.
A Las Vegas- area rehabilitation center has offered to pay the cost of her upcoming treatment, but the family is still waiting to get the bill for her time this week at University Medical Center. The family has also set up a GoFundMe account.
Even with donations, the Litzenberg family is preparing for years of financial hardship. Litzenberg also worries about her ability to recover emotionally.
“I had seven nightmares last night of being shot — it’s in your mind,” Litzenberg said Thursday evening. “I keep seeing the same girl going down. I keep seeing the lights. I keep hearing the banging. I keep hearing the sirens — it’s horrifying, and it’s horrifying for everybody.”
Vice President Mike Pence praised the heroic response by police and the resolve of the American people at a prayer service Saturday in Las Vegas.
“It was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions,” Pence said at Las Vegas City Hall. “Those we lost were taken before their time, but their names and their stories will forever be etched into the hearts of the American people.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Natalie Vanderstay recalls the night of the shooting fromher hospital bed in Las Vegas. Shewas shot in the stomach during the attack.