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She was playing kickball when she was hit by a stray bullet. Now she's 36, paralyzed, and reclaiming her independence

Anna Orso and Jessica Griffin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

That context has not been lost on Lyons, who has made gun violence prevention her raison d'être, calling for stronger gun safety laws from her hospital bed and appearing this month at a violence prevention event alongside Gov. Tom Wolf. She frequently uses her social media platform to fund-raise for Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the country's most prominent gun control groups.

She tries to share the raw truth with her followers, taking them along through months of rehabilitation that included everything from physical therapists using electrical currents to stimulate the nerves in her legs, to art therapy sessions where she painted a mermaid onto a piece of wheelchair equipment. She's posted photos of the massive scar on her stomach from the surgery to evaluate what was damaged inside her body after the shooting, one of dozens of procedures.

This fall, she finally had a large fragment of the bullet removed from her back.

But it is not possible to show the breadth of the impact — not the therapy to deal with the depression and anxiety, or the medication she must take four times a day to help the nerve pain.

She can't capture the conversations with her husband, Ben, about how to avoid dwelling on the worst "what ifs," or how he can deal with the guilt he feels for not being there — for leaving the park to run home for just a few minutes, then sprinting back to find his wife shot.

And hard as Lyons may try, it's difficult to chronicle the span of daily activities forever changed by becoming a paraplegic. There is no more going to the Firefly music festival without having to lie down in pain in an RV, or hearing fireworks over Labor Day weekend without experiencing a panic attack.

 

There are no more morning runs, no standing at the bar with friends, no easy trip in an Uber to go out to eat. She feels intense self-consciousness when she thinks about riding the bus, worried about getting the wheelchair on and concerned other riders will pity her.

"I try not to draw attention to my chair. I don't want people looking at it," she said. "I want to feel like you. I want to feel like everybody else. And it just is a reminder that I'm not walking.

Some of her anxiety, she said, could be stemmed if police solved the crime. Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said investigators identified a suspect and are "working with some other evidence" but have not definitively connected the person to the errant gunfire.

Detectives speak regularly with Lyons' mother, Susan Prima, who travels to Philadelphia from New Jersey a few times a month to take her youngest daughter to doctor's appointments. Sometimes she arrives at the new apartment Lyons moved into — because it's wheelchair accessible — and when she sees her daughter come out of the bedroom in a wheelchair, all she can think is "no."

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