Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Tampa survivor of Pulse massacre thanks healthcare workers

TAMPA

One round hit her in the underarm. Another, in the back. A third grazed her right leg.

But Tampa health care worker Amanda Grau, 33, lived to tell of the June 12 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and two weeks ago, she took her first steps without a cane.

On Monday, she returned to a Tampa hospital to thank those who helped her reclaim her life.

"My nurses assured me I was going to be the person that I used to be," she said, choking back a sob as she read from a small pink notebook emblazoned with a cross. "I will always be eternally grateful."

Grau was among a small group of patients invited to attend the sixth annual rehabilitation center reunion luncheon at Florida Hospital Tampa, where she spent two weeks of a monthlong recovery.

She's still undergoing therapy to regain control of her right arm, but she was able to unwrap Hershey's Kisses sprinkled on the table and pop one in her mouth while she spoke of her gratitude for the health care workers at the Fletcher Avenue facility.

Asked what she remembers about that night, though, she grew quiet and her face somber.

"Chaos," she said. "It was just chaos."

She wasn't a regular at the Orlando nightclub, but went out to meet up with friend Christopher Sanfeliz, a 24-year-old Tampa banker who did not survive the night.

When she first heard gunfire, she thought she was hearing firecrackers, she said. She tried to run but felt the first round hit below her right arm.

As soon as she could, she ran to a bathroom, where she hid with about 10 other people. Herself a certified nursing assistant, she tried to tend to other victims' wounds before terrorist Omar Mateen entered, yelling to his captives not to use their phones or they would be killed.

Grau and the others were held in the bathroom for about three hours, she said. When she could, she texted her brother and girlfriend, telling them that everyone was bleeding and no one was coming for them. Grau's brother, Phillip, helped her make contact with a hostage negotiator, and she fed the negotiator information about what was happening in the bathroom.

She was hiding behind some victims' bodies when a blast opened up the bathroom wall, allowing her to hop into the arms of rescuers so she could be pulled from the club and carried away. She was taken to an Orlando hospital first and then Florida Hospital in Tampa.

She still has nightmares about that night, but her second chance at life is nothing short of a blessing, she said.

"My mind-set now is to try to move forward," she said. "It's hard — you go through things you shouldn't go through as a person — but it does get a little bit easier."

She had to relearn how to walk, bathe and dress herself again through three hours of therapy a day. She's gone through multiple surgeries to clear her wounds of debris and required a skin graft from her right leg.

"It's amazing to see someone only take 14 days and then go home," said Dawn Etman, director of acute rehabilitation. "She was very engaged, motivated, dedicated. Her goal was to go home."

Now, Grau is set on getting back to work. Her passion in life is helping others reclaim their lives, just as the nurses at Florida Hospital helped her.

"It brings me joy that I'm able to make a difference in somebody's life," Grau said. "It's a great feeling."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

 
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