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Physical, mental rehab for gunshot victims a prime focus at Frazier Rehabilitation Institute

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 8:08 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Terrell Williams is proof that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

On March 29, 2017, Williams was shot twice at F&H Food Mart on the corner of 41st and Bank Streets.

“I just remember being 21 years old and thinking to myself, like, dang, life’s over already,’” Williams said.

Williams said he left his car running to grab something from the convenience store, and came out to a stranger trying to steal his car.

“My natural reaction kicks in and I pull out my gun, cock it back, and aim it at the guy sitting in my car,” Williams said. “And the next thing I know, I feel something pierce my side.”

The first bullet struck him in the lung and spine before exiting through his back. The second bullet hit him in the neck, becoming lodged in his jaw.

To stay alive, Williams said he pretended to be dead.

“I’m literally seeing bullets left, right, left, right,” he said. “I’m seeing concrete chip up, seeing sparks flying and everything. In my mind, I still knew I was about to die, and so there was one thing left to do, and that was start praying.”

As he was rushed to the emergency room at UofL Health, Williams said first responders drained the blood from his collapsed lung. He lived, but he was left paralyzed from the waist down.

“In my mind, I’m going to be walking soon,” Williams said. “I know I am, because I was just doing it. I know how to do it. I guess over time you realize like this is a different type of injury.”

Williams went to the University of Louisville’s Frazier Rehabilitation Institute after being released from hospital. He was taken to the 11th floor Spinal Cord Unit, where he met the institute’s transdisciplinary team and nurse navigator Heather Conner.

Conner and her team, which included nurses, physical therapists, and social workers, guided Williams on his mental and physical recovery journey.

“Not only are they trying to push themselves to the max every day that they’re here, but they’re also kind of fighting through depression, anxiety, PTSD, which we do our best to help them with as well,” physical therapist Brendan Doksa said.

During Louisville’s most violent year, the Frazier rehab team has been busier than ever. So far in 2021, 163 people were shot and killed, according to LMPD crime statistics. Fifty-four people have been shot and survived. Thirteen of the 54 have been treated by Frazier’s multidisciplinary team. The number is expected to equal or surpass the number (18) from 2020, which was more than double the number (9) from 2019.

“At that point, their world is rocked,” Conner said. “Their number one goal is to walk when they come to us and some will, some don’t some won’t. The kids that are coming in here are younger than my own child. So a lot of times I feel like I just need to hold them closer. They’re just kids.”

The holistic approach to recovery has seen results.

Since Williams’ injury four years ago, he’s gone from inpatient, daily therapy to outpatient rehab two-three times a week on his own. He’s also graduated college and is currently applying to graduate school. He’s also become a local advocate for change, sharing his story with others in the community.

“If I can just help out one person, that’s what it’s all about,” Williams said.

He said he believes none of it would’ve been possible if not for the care and coaching he received at Frazier.

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