Vic­tims of LasVe­gas­mas­sacre strug­gle to re­cover

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD - By TheWash­ing­ton Post

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.

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