Coping with the aftermath of being shot and paralyzed is more than a momentary struggle. According to Elisa Cooper Luna, it’s something you deal with minute by minute and hour by hour for the rest of your life.
“There’s a moment when you realize that nothing will ever be the same again. The life you had is gone. The goals you set and the dreams you had, all gone in an instant,” said Luna, who was shot Feb. 10, 2010 by a disgruntled employee.
Luna was a principal in the Knox County School System. She fired fourth-grade teacher Mark Stephen Foster. Upon learning that his contract would not be renewed, he left the meeting, returned with a handgun and began shooting.
“I turned when I saw the gun. He shot me in the back. He stood over me and shot me again. He then shot my assistant principal (Amy Brace) in the head, because she tried to push him off me. It grazed the top of her head. When she went down, he shot her again. The bullet went through her arm, because she put her arm up to protect her head.”
Bullets, and shattered fragments from them, struck Luna’s spinal cord, lung, spleen, liver and heart. Paralyzed in an instant, she could only lie there waiting for one of two outcomes: rescue by emergency personnel or Foster’s return.
She was taken to the UT Medical Center in Knoxville, an emergency and trauma center, and underwent the first of almost a dozen surgeries. She was eventually transferred to The Shepherd Center where she spent 90 days. After her release, she had four years of physical and occupational therapy.
“You have to learn how to dress yourself, how to sit in a chair, how to go to the bathroom,” said Luna. “You have to learn how to wash your clothes. The basic things in life, the things you once took for granted, you have to learn again. It’s almost like being a child and re-learning everything. At The Shepherd Center they have occupational therapy and physical therapy and recreational therapy. They teach you how to drive with your hands. They offer, which is huge, educational classes on everything you are going to experience from here on out. They provide the family with educational classes, too.”
Luna had extensive support, both emotionally and financially, from family, friends and communities.
“I had Knox County Schools behind me. I was an honorary professor at UT, so I had UT behind me. I had McMinnville and Warren County behind me, because I graduated from here and lived here most of my life. I had all of these communities and big players behind me. I had friends and family. I didn’t have to worry about anything, like raising the funds to go to The Shepherd Center.”
Luna would become an advocate for paralysis patients.
“In the field of paralysis, it’s the least funded and least supported medical issue across the board. Being paralyzed is one of the worst things that can happen to somebody, because most of the world becomes inaccessible to you at that point. You can’t easily go into family members' houses because of stairs. You can’t get into a car. You can’t walk on the beach, unless you have a special wheelchair and most people don’t have that. You can’t go hiking and see water falls.”
The suicide rate among paraplegics is approximately 50 percent.
Luna says gunshot victims can suffer a variety of mental health issues, including post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is caused when a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing a terrifying event.
“They have a lot of mental health issues, especially gunshot victims,” said Luna. “You become scared of the world around you, because you feel like you can’t protect yourself anymore. The depression. The isolation. Everybody had such a hard time when COVID hit, but that’s the life we lead every day – that type of isolation. They couldn’t get out and do things, but that has been my life for so long now.”
An unknown financial future also contributes to depression.
“Research says, if you are around 25 years old, being a paraplegic will cost about $2.5 million across your lifetime,” said Luna. “It usually costs about $100,000 a year just for all the doctors you have to see, all the therapy you have to receive. Most people who are paralyzed aren’t able to work. The small percentage that can average about $15,000 a year. Trying to get the resources you need is so hard for most paraplegics.”
One of those people could be Deven Grove, a McMinnville man who was shot and paralyzed at the beginning of July. Donations for Grove are being accepted at Homeland Community Bank on North Chancery Street. An account has been established under Ola Johnson, aunt of Grove.
“I want us to come together as a community and at least get him to The Shepherd Center,” said Luna. “Yes, it is extremely expensive. But, if I hadn’t went to The Shepherd Center … my 90 days there were vital. If everybody would just give $1, we can get him there. I’m so worried about him. I had all this support, but most people don’t. He’s got a long road ahead of him. I was 38 when it happened. This man is 25.”
Grove was shot three times with a 40-caliber handgun by a disgruntled roommate. One of those bullets shattered his C-7 vertebrae, causing paralysis.
In August, Grove’s family reported the need to get him into The Shepherd Center. The cost for 56 days of treatment required an $112,000 deposit, followed by an additional $112,000.
“We need to rally around this man and get him what he needs,” said Luna. “He’s going to have a hard road ahead of him. You have to have family support and community support behind you in order to make it. I just wanted to put this out there. I hate doing interviews, honestly, but he needs the community to support him. Let’s not let this become one forgotten moment in time for us while he’s still struggling to cope.”
William Dejesus Fernandez, 21, has been charged in the shooting incident involving Grove. That case has yet to be resolved.
In Luna’s case, Foster pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of use of a firearm during a felony and one count of carrying a weapon on school property. He was given 56 years.