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Mother of 3 Regains Her Footing After Being Shot

The New York Times logo The New York Times 2015-11-12 By JOHN OTIS
Yennifez Marte, 28, with her daughter Izabella, at Frederick Douglass Playground in Manhattan. “I couldn’t pick up my daughters,” she said of her pain after being shot in 2008. © Nicole Craine for The New York Times Yennifez Marte, 28, with her daughter Izabella, at Frederick Douglass Playground in Manhattan. “I couldn’t pick up my daughters,” she said of her pain after being shot in 2008.

Balloons began popping, three in quick succession.

Or so Yennifez Marte thought.

She immediately fell to the sidewalk, beside the stroller that held her 2-year-old daughter. When Ms. Marte tried to pull herself up, she realized she could not move.

Those sounds were not balloons popping, but gunfire. Ms. Marte was shot in the back, the unintended victim in a gang-related shooting in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in December 2008. She spent two weeks in the hospital.

Words of encouragement were of little comfort.

“People kept saying ‘You’re so blessed,’ ‘It could have hit your spine,’ ‘You could have been paralyzed,’” Ms. Marte, 28, said. “But what happened was horrible.”

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The bullet also chipped a rib and caused internal bleeding; doctors were unable to remove the bullet because of how close it was to her spine.

Ms. Marte returned to the apartment in the East New York section of Brooklyn that she shared with her mother, sister and brother. Her recovery took three months. She was in so much pain that simple tasks proved nearly impossible.

“I couldn’t pick up my daughters,” Ms. Marte said. “I couldn’t get up from the bed. I was hurting so much. I would be so angry.”

Her family did not understand the extent of her pain or her trauma, she said, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend — the father of her three daughters — was equally unsupportive. When Ms. Marte returned to her job as a cashier at a clothing store, she found she had another problem: a fear of venturing outside.

Even though the gunman was arrested and imprisoned, Ms. Marte had grown scared of the world around her.

“I started getting panic attacks in the street,” she said. “I was going crazy. I used to feel the bullet inside me while I was walking the girls.”

Her anxiety intensified, and eventually Ms. Marte was told she had post-traumatic stress disorder. She saw a number of therapists, all of whom were ineffectual, she said. Things at home became more hostile.

Ms. Marte with her three daughters. © Nicole Craine for The New York Times Ms. Marte with her three daughters. Ms. Marte said she felt she had no choice but to leave. In November 2013, she and her daughters entered New York City’s shelter system. She continued reporting to her job. “I had to work,” she said. “It was the only way I was going to get out of the shelter.”

Shelter life was unpleasant, she said, but she was surprised at how her change of location dissolved some of her stress.

“Once I left my house, I could finally take the train, something I was not able to do,” Ms. Marte said. “Just the fact that I was away from that specific neighborhood brought some relief.”

Ms. Marte soon learned about Semiperm Housing, which helps homeless single parents and their children find permanent housing. The program is supported by the Community Service Society of New York, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

In 2014, Ms. Marte was placed in an apartment in Manhattan with her three daughters. With the help of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center, Ms. Marte has found work as a data-entry administrator at Preferred Home Care of New York, where she earns $15 an hour.

In December, the Community Service Society used $122 from the fund to buy Ms. Marte a monthly MetroCard to commute to her new job in the Bronx. It also used $136 to pay an outstanding utility bill.

For the past year, Ms. Marte has been seeing a new counselor, and she said her progress had been miraculous.

“I can walk around with my daughters; I can go to the park with my daughters,” she said. “It’s a huge step. Imagine being locked in depression for four years. I’m not out completely, but I can tell you in this past year, things have changed a lot.”

She plans to re-enroll in school, having dropped out of ASA College in Brooklyn in 2010 because of her post-traumatic stress disorder.

For years, Ms. Marte wanted to pursue a career in nursing, but said that would be hard to achieve considering how long the schooling would take. But she still wants to work in the health care field in some capacity to help others, a desire cemented by the actions of a stranger moments after she was shot.

“There was this one particular person that came by, and he held my hand and told me I wasn’t going to die,” Ms. Marte said. “Just for one person to make me feel like I was going to be O.K., I want to do that for somebody. I want to hold somebody’s hand and say: ‘You’re going to be fine. We’re going to get through this.’”

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