TORONTO — Danielle Kane struggled with depression in her 20s and even contemplated suicide.
But then she fell in love, enrolled in nursing school and felt she was finally on her way – until a summer night last year when a disturbed man went on a shooting spree in Toronto’s Greektown and a bullet tore through her body.
“Not now,” she thought as she lay on the ground in a pool of blood. “My life is not over.”
Kane, 32, was one of 13 people wounded in the July 22, 2018 rampage that left two dead – Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 10 – and shocked the city.
That night Kane and her partner, Jerry Pinksen, were celebrating a friend’s birthday on a restaurant patio on Danforth Avenue when they heard what sounded like fireworks. A waitress urged everyone to go inside because there was a shooter on the loose. Kane was incredulous, but she took her glass of wine and followed Pinksen inside.
“We were safe,” she said in a recent interview.
Another patron said there was a victim outside, so Pinksen, an emergency department nurse, rushed out to help. Kane pulled on his arm, briefly worried about his safety, then decided to join him.
“We work in ER together and when there is an emergency, it’s all hands on deck,” she said.
Kane took two steps outside before she saw a dark figure standing on the street, just metres from the pair.
“I do remember thinking how odd it was he was just standing there,” Kane said.
Then she saw the gunman, 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, open fire. She turned slightly and the bullet grazed her left forearm, burning it, before entering her body. It ripped through her abdomen, missed her aorta by a few centimetres and her spinal cord by a millimetre then ricocheted off her spine and exited her body through her right shoulder.
She collapsed and broke her ribs on the fall. She couldn’t feel her legs, and she had trouble breathing – her diaphragm and one lung collapsed, the other lung started to fill with blood.
Pinksen heard her scream and rushed back, carrying her inside the restaurant.
He remembered the shock and anger he felt at that moment.
“Then it clicked, she doesn’t need this, she needs Jerry the nurse now,” he said. He helped stabilize her and they waited until paramedics arrived.
Kane spent the next 11 days in a medically induced coma.
“That was the hardest, her in a coma, on a breathing machine, looking at the screen hoping things get better,” said Pinksen, 35.
Doctors performed four surgeries on Kane.
The first was to fuse her spine after the bullet shattered her T-11 vertebrae. The doctors told her the bullet didn’t sever her spinal cord, but passed so close that the energy from the bullet transferred to the spinal cord, causing massive cell death and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
She had three surgeries to repair her abdomen. When surgeons went in to get a look inside, they found food – ceviche and lamb pasta from dinner – all over her chest wall.
“That would have been a huge source of infection,” Pinksen said. “Catching it early saved her life, too.”
The last year has been a journey for the pair.
She spent two months at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute learning to live as a paraplegic.
“Everything has changed for me,” Kane said.
Pain is her biggest problem now.
“The pain is more disabling than a lack of ability to walk,” Kane said. Her lower back hurts and she has a constant “tingly, burning sensation” in her legs.
“From a caregiver and a partner, sometimes it’s difficult playing those different roles and seeing someone you care about struggle with pain,” Pinksen said. “It’s such a preoccupying force in our lives.”
She said cannabis helps. Physiotherapy also helps, but she’s hit her OHIP-supported limit.
Fortunately, the couple received more than $200,000 from a GoFundMe campaign launched by a friend. With the money, they’re moving to Oshawa, Ont., to be closer to her school, where she hopes to take a few classes come January to ease back into the nursing program. She plans to join a centre where she’ll continue her physiotherapy.
The money has also allowed Pinksen to take a leave from work to help out at home.
“Without that money, I would have been stressed out and my recovery would have been more difficult,” she said. “Maybe that’s why I’m so relaxed. That and Jerry!”
They are renovating the house to make it accessible, the couple said.
Mentally, there have been ups and downs, Kane said. Depression rears its dark head from time to time. But she has found solace in meditation and the idea that life is suffering punctuated with moments of joy.
“I feel with all the suffering I’ve had, I have a great capacity for joy,” Kane said with a laugh.
She sometimes thinks about the past – what it was like to dance and run and jump – that can take her down to a dark place.
“I try to catch myself and distance myself from the thought and let it float away,” she said.
She also thinks about the shooter. Police said Hussain, who killed himself moments after the shooting spree, lived with severe mental health issues since childhood and had a history of harming himself along with a fascination with death and violence.
“I forgive him,” she said. “I definitely have moments where he’s not my favourite person, but I see him as a human being who struggled and didn’t get help. I can only imagine how awful his life must have been to be so isolated and tortured by violent thoughts.”
But she refuses to be kept down.
“I don’t feel traumatized because I’ve taken it back,” she said. “I feel like I don’t want to be a victim. I’m choosing not to be a victim.”