101 days ago, Julie Dombo, 61, took her daughter, Aimee, 31, to the airport.
100 days ago, Julie was shot multiple times in the arm and right lung during a robbery in Derby, and nobody knew whether she would survive.
99 days after the robbery, Julie sat in front of reporters and said she is on the verge of heading home to a new life without the hands and feet that had to be amputated.
“When I go home, it’s going to be a whole new world,” she said Wednesday.
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But when Julie took her daughter to the airport on Aug. 10, neither knew what lay ahead.
We looked at each other and hugged each other. And I remember getting through security and I turned around and we waived to each other about five times. It felt really special.
Aimee Dombo, describing the last time she saw her mom before she was shot
“She didn’t just let me out of the car,” Aimee Dombo said. “She walked me up to security; we looked at each other and hugged each other. And I remember getting through security and I turned around and we waved to each other about five times. It felt really special. That’s the last time I saw her with her hands and feet healthy.”
The next day, Aimee left her job in New York as an Emmy-nominated artist on the CBS show “Madame Secretary” and returned home. John, Julie’s husband, had just begun to enjoy retirement after leaving as vice president at Wichita Canteen Co. with 40 years in food service.
Both husband and daughter have taken on full-time jobs of helping to care for Julie as she works with physical therapists from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week to build the strength and skills needed to navigate the world.
But there is a lot of uncertainty ahead, they said, about what will happen when Julie comes home.
On Aug. 11, Julie put on her sneakers, socks and a blue exercise jacket, did her daily walk at the local recreation center and stopped off at an AT&T store to get her phone fixed on the way home. The next day, she was supposed to go back to work as a volunteer counselor in Haysville, where she had just retired.
“I thought I’d just run into the store and get my phone fixed,” Julie said. “And then my whole life changed in seconds.”
She found herself in the middle of a robbery and was shot multiple times in the arm and lung.
“I fell to the floor, and I just said, ‘Please don’t let me die,’ ” she said. “I just didn’t want to die.”
She kept repeating this over and over and then told the UPS employee, Sherri Randall, who worked next door and came over to be with her, to call her husband and repeated her husband’s phone number again and again.
Randall took Dombo’s hand, rubbed Dombo’s forehead, which was cold and clammy, and told her that everything would be all right until the ambulance came.
The suspected gunman, James Michael Phillips, was arrested after he fled the robbery scene and was captured in Wichita following a police pursuit. He has been charged with a number of crimes, including attempted capital murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted aggravated kidnapping and two charges of attempted aggravated robbery.
Julie was in a coma for more than six days as the doctors at Wesley worked on her.
When she finally awoke, she said, she looked down at her hands, and they were black. She also couldn’t talk, because both her lungs were being vented.
I was like ‘Uh-oh, I am in trouble.’ I didn't know if they could be saved or not.
Julie Dombo, upon waking from a coma and seeing that her hands had turned black
“I was like ‘Uh-oh, I am in trouble,’ ” she said. “I didn’t know if they could be saved or not.”
Her family had to make the decision to amputate her hands and feet in order to save her life. Her doctors said that her good health saved her.
The hardest part about recovering is the persistent pain in her extremities, Julie said. And she’s learning how to live all over again.
“I’ll come home and tell my dad, ‘Oh, my gosh, do you know what she did today?’ ” Aimee said. “She was able to use her arms to pick up a napkin.”
Because Julie’s lungs were not working properly, her family has had to limit the number of people who visit her. But one time Julie saw several visitors having a good time together.
She got a bright look in her eyes, Aimee remembered.
Oh, my gosh, you guys look so nice, let me take your picture. Oh, wait, I can’t. I can’t because I have no hands. I forgot my hands are gone.
Julie Dombo, to family who came to visit her in the hospital
“ ‘Oh, my gosh, you guys look so nice, let me take your picture,’ ” Aimee recounted her mom as saying. “And then she looked down at her arms and said, ‘Oh, wait, I can’t. I can’t because I have no hands. I forgot my hands are gone.’ ”
But Julie recovers from these moments, her family said, and staff members at the hospital told her family that they wait to give Julie her medications last so they can stay and chat with her.
Julie’s insurance company wanted to send her home in time for Thanksgiving, so it sent a representative to check on her.
“I’m really sicker than I look,” she joked with the insurance rep, who, after seeing how difficult it was for Julie to walk down the hall, gave her two more weeks at Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital before she has to go home.
She has only two more weeks to go.
“I’m scared,” Julie said. “Excited is probably not the right word. I’m scared because there are going to be a lot of challenges. Here all I have to do is push a button and there’s a nurse with my meds. ... Right now I have to have someone with me all the time, and I know in the future I won’t.”
The extra two weeks has given John more time to get the house ready for her. He’s expanded the doors so her wheelchair will fit through them. He’s added an electric chair that will take Julie up the stairs. He’s remodeled the bathroom, adding a bidet, a seat in the shower and a special new shower head.
He just bought an electric wheelchair with a joystick that, he said, insurance wouldn’t pay for, though Julie doesn’t have hands to operate a regular wheelchair.
“I think it’s quite lonely for (John), because he’s spending all of that time trying to prepare for her to come home,” Aimee said. “For a man who spent 40 years with his wife, it’s been hard for me to see my parents spend the last three or four months apart.”
A new life
Several of Julie’s friends have helped organize a fundraiser and auction at Roxy’s on Sunday to help raise money to deal with some of the unknown costs ahead.
“I know the tickets are a little pricey,” Julie said of the $75 cost. “But it’s for a good cause. I need a lot of things, long term, to try to live the rest of my life. I’m 61 and thought I was going into retirement.”
Julie thanked everyone: the hospital staff members who she said saved her life, her family for being with her constantly, the community for its donations and encouragement, her physical therapists and prosthetic teachers who, when she says she is ready to give up, ask her to try just once more.
She’s looking ahead rather than focusing on what happened to her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t think about what’s missing.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had my hands and feet back.
Julie Dombo, who lost her hands and feet after being shot in a robbery
“Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had my hands and feet back,” she said. “But our family motto was to try to have no regrets, and if you have something you really want to do, you need to do it. Don’t wait. Do it. Because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings.”
She has learned to do some things again. She loves texting, she said, and her daughter bought her a special stylus that attaches to her upper arm so she can be in touch with the rest of her family, who live in Illinois.
“We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done in the past,” John reassured his wife as the TV cameras rolled. “Go out for dinners, visit friends, go to friends’ houses for dinner, visit different people. We’re just going to do it a little bit differently, but we still want to continue doing what we were doing before this happened.”
Julie said she’s finally going to have to take the advice of all the middle school students she counseled for more than 20 years. A couple of the hospital staff members came up to her while she has been recovering and asked whether she remembered counseling them when they were kids.
Here I am just trying to stay positive, upbeat, live day-to-day and try not to think about the fact that I can’t reach my kitchen cupboards.
Julie Dombo, a quadruple amputee who is trying to live the advice she gave out as a middle-school counselor
“I am happy to live some of the things I taught my middle-schoolers for 21 years,” Dombo said. “You can be different than your parents, you can have a good life. Here I am just trying to stay positive, upbeat, live day-to-day and try not to think about the fact that I can’t reach my kitchen cupboards.”
‘An Evening for Julie’
Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to support Julie Dombo’s recovery.
What: A full musical comedy production of “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” following a cocktail hour with silent auction of items including concert tickets, backstage passes, dinners, clothing, jewelry and gift certificates.
When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412 E. Douglas
Cost: $75 in advance, $85 at the door
People can also donate directly at Julie’s GoFundMe site: https://www.gofundme.com/JulieDombo