Arizona mother makes stunning recovery from near death in 2017 Las Vegas shooting
PHOENIX — Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.
Among the hundreds who were injured at the event was Jovanna Calzadillas of San Tan Valley. She was struck in the head by a bullet.
Doctors in Las Vegas did not believe she would survive.
Francisco Calzadillas, her husband, was with her when it happened.
“On three different occasions they were going to take her off life support,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “As a family, we made that decision not to.”
Francisco Calzadillas was told his wife was in a coma, and even if she recovered, the outlook was grim.
“That’s one thing us as a family struggled with. We made the decision to keep her alive, now we have to live with the consequences,” he said.
Francisco Calzadillas noticed small signs of life from Jovanna and decided to have her moved to the Select Specialty Hospital in Phoenix. At that point, Jovanna was still thought to be in a coma and slowly dying as ventilators and other machines kept her alive.
Once in Phoenix, new doctors began looking at Jovanna and realized she had been awake and aware since the incident and was not in a coma.
“I remember everything,” Jovanna said. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything.”
But she was aware.
Dr. Christina Kwasnica, the medical director of Barrow’s Neuro Rehabilitation Center, assessed Jovanna in 2018.
“Jovanna was shot on the left side of her brain which is the side that processes language, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to comprehend language to follow commands, but her eyes were open and she was able to track in a very small way with her eyes,” Kwasnica said in a press release from Dignity Health. “This told me that she was unresponsive because of a language deficit, not because of the severity of her injury. She was not dying.”
Another doctor, Dr. Lindley Bliss, a hospitalist for Barrow and Select Specialty, made the decision to lower the dosage of her fentanyl medication to see if she would respond.
Francisco said this was a turning point.
“Once they took her off that, that’s when she started reacting to people walking in or people talking to her,” he said. “She couldn’t talk back, but she would stare at you and watch you walk throughout the room.”
This meant she could begin her recovery, even if slowly.
“She hadn’t gotten out of bed, gotten in a wheel chair, she obviously hadn’t eaten anything,” Kwasnica said. “She wasn’t communicating.
“Gradually, over the first couple weeks, she was able to eat. She was able to communicate.”
Then she started showing even more progress.
“I think there was a first time I said, ‘Hi dad,’ when he was walking by,” Jovanna said, a moment that came as a shock to her family.
By the time she was able to move, Jovanna was 50 pounds lighter and her head was shaved.
“I was crying,” she said. “I didn’t know what happened to me.”
Jovanna thought she might have been in a car accident, but was not sure.
“I told my mom to tell me,” she explained. “I didn’t even know. Three months later, I didn’t know.”
Jovanna, 35, is now able to walk and speak, as well as take care of her children. She credits support from her family and loved ones for a big part of her recovery.
Kwasnica gave tons of credit to Jovanna.
“She has never complained and has never been afraid to try something she may not be able to do,” Kwasnica said. “She is always upbeat. I’m so proud of her and the hard work she’s put in throughout her long recovery.”
Jovanna and Francisco said people who want to help others who may have similar experiences should donate blood. Jovanna received three blood transfusions throughout her recovery.
And for Francisco, the survival of his wife remains a miracle.
“She’ll be singing a song and I just … I think quietly, ‘How is she alive?'”