(DENVER) — Petra Anderson had important plans for her summer. After graduating from University of the Pacific in June, Anderson, 22, returned home to Aurora, Colo., determined to sit by her mother’s side, holding her hand as she is treated for cancer.
Kim Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. It went into remission in 2011, only to return 18 months later, when it spread to other parts of her body.
Now, it is Kim Anderson who sits by Petra’s side in a Denver hospital, holding the hand of the daughter she nearly lost.
Petra Anderson was in the Century 16 movie theater with friends last Thursday night when a gunman opened fire at the midnight screening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Petra’s arm was riddled by three pieces of buckshot from a shotgun blast. Another piece hit her face, passing through her nose and into her brain, stopping just short of the back of her head.
“The whole thing was just surreal. It was like a dream,” Petra’s sister, Chloe Anderson, told ABC News. “They did tell us she’d been shot in the face, and I didn’t know what that would look like. There was blood on her, and her face was swollen, but it was still her, and that was a relief. “
Doctors initially feared the worst, telling Petra Anderson’s family that if she lived, she could be paralyzed or have speech problems due to severe brain damage.
But after multiple surgeries on Friday, doctors told her family they expected Anderson to make a full recovery. Remarkably, while removing the shot from her brain and repairing the damage, doctors discovered a fluid-filled “void” in her brain that she may have had since birth. Although these voids are not uncommon, the position of this particular cavity may have saved Petra’s life.
According to Chloe Anderson, the surgeon who operated on Petra said this “channel” may have provided a kind of pathway for the piece of shot, guiding it through her brain and avoiding critical areas.
“If [the shot] had deviated, it could have hit major, major things,” Chloe said. “It could have hit a blood vessel or her brain stem. He didn’t know how it’s possible for the bullet to travel so straight.”
Petra may still face additional surgeries, including optional facial reconstruction where the shot hit her nose. Her family is grateful and relieved that she will ultimately pull through, but there is now a new battle they must fight: Petra’s medical bills, which they estimate may surpass $100,000.
It is a stark new reality many of the victims of the Colorado massacre now face — how to pay potentially staggering medical bills now and cover any ongoing psychological treatment down the road.
According to Nancy Lewis, Executive Director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), there is a victim compensation fund set up by the 18th Judicial District of Colorado. Victims can apply for help with medical expenses, psychological support and lost wages after any insurance has reached its maximum coverage.
It is not yet known how many of the victims have health insurance and what their financial, medical and psychological needs will be. In the aftermath of the Columbine shootings, COVA formed a committee to conduct what they call “life studies” on the injured. After a year, donations were distributed proportionately based on the results. Lewis said a similar model could be applied here.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles, CNN
Ralph Ellis, CNN