Heather Grossman never expected to survive the bullet that tore through her neck in 1997 as she sat in her car at a traffic light.
The shot was fired by a hitman on behalf of her first husband Ron, four months after Heather married her new partner John.
The mother-of-three pulled through, but she would spend the rest of her life quadriplegic in a wheelchair, on a ventilator, with round-the-clock care to stop her from choking, keep her head propped up, and prevent potentially deadly sores.
Heather thought that was the worst thing she would have to face. Cruelly, she was mistaken.
In 2000, three years after the attack, her husband John – who was grazed by the bullet as he sat next to her in the car on the day of her attack – became abusive. He slapped her, smeared food on her face, threw dog feces at her, and tipped garbage on her bed. It took repeated 911 calls to finally get him removed from the house.
Ron is currently serving life in a Florida prison, John died of a heart attack in 2005, and Heather started rebuilding her life, even winning awards for her public speaking about domestic abuse and finding strength in the darkest of moments.
But Heather now faces a new life-threatening demon: money. Last month, her father died of stage 4 cancer, driving her mother to close the family sandal business which was paying for Heather’s medical bills.
Her kids are now desperately raising funds on GoFundMe to foot the $8,000 a month needed for the care that keeps her alive.
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Heather Grossman was shot by a hitman hired by her husband to kill her 18 years ago following years of abuse. She then turned to the second man she married, John, to care for her
The mother-of-three survived, but her injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down. But instead of providing the care she needed, she claims John turned violent
‘I thank God every day I’ve been able to live these 21 years to see my kids develop,’ Heather told DailyMail.com.
‘It was so hard finding the strength to keep going. This is a hard life to live, but I knew I had my faith and love for my children, and I had to be strong for my kids.
‘But now that my dad is gone… I don’t know what we’re going to do. My dad was really the savior who got things done. He was a father to my kids, and the sandal business paid for my medical fees. When he got sick, his cancer quickly spread from his lungs to his brain. Within five or six months, you couldn’t even ask him a question, he didn’t know where he was.
‘I wish I wasn’t in this situation, so I could be working and helping physically, helping my mom who is… she’s not in a good way.
‘I wish I wasn’t a big burden. I really appreciate everything they have done for me. My family… they are just wonderful. Wonderful.’
THE SHOOTING: HOW HEATHER’S LIFE TURNED INTO A NIGHTMARE JUST FOUR MONTHS AFTER GETTING RE-MARRIED
For months, Heather had been receiving death threats from Ron Samuels, the man she married in 1988, with whom she had three children, a boy and a set of twins, another boy and a girl.
When they’d been together, their relationship was tumultuous. He threw things at her – from plates to food – and grabbed her so hard she was bruised. While pregnant with the twins, Ron told her never to leave him by putting a gun to her head.
It took her four years to pluck up the courage to escape with their kids, and she claims he then stalked them as they went on the run from him all over the United States.
Fast-forward to 1997, Heather is newly-married to John Grossman, a sweet and loving man who she met through a friend. They are in their car driving in Florida when they are stopped at a red light, and start hearing gun fire.
Within milliseconds, one of those shots hits Heather, tearing a hole the size of a fist through her neck, in the left side and out the right.
Heather was sitting in the back of the car (pictured in a grab from Crime Watch Daily) when she was hit in the neck by the gunman. John was also in the car but was only grazed
Three years after her brush with the death, she reveals how the man she married in Florida in 1997 (pictured) turned violent and left her fearing for her life again
Ronald Samuels (pictured at trial in 2006) is now serving life in prison for his role in the attempted hit
For a few seconds, she was technically ‘dead’ – her heart stopped and she was totally unconscious.
Around the corner, a paramedic was buying his lunch in the grocery store and received a buzz. He revived Heather, and that’s when she started to feel what was happening.
‘I could feel my body shutting down,’ Heather told DailyMail.com.
‘It really felt like I was dying, the sensation. I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t do anything.’
About a day later, she woke up in hospital, confused.
‘I didn’t know what was going on. I was just so worried that my kids hadn’t been picked up from school. I’m looking around and I see I’m in hospital, there’s a police officer by my bed. Then I realize I can’t speak.’
It transpired Ron had arranged for a hitman to kill Heather. It didn’t come out of the blue. Just six days before the shooting, Heather had told a judge in Boca Ranton, Florida, that he was going to kill her, and had been sending her death threats.
Heather’s three children have been her strength to battle through the darkest of times
Heather had three children with Ron: Joseph, Ronald and Lauren
She met John Grossman in Minnesota, through a friend. John’s father, Bud, is considered one of the richest men in the state, the Phoenix New Times reported.
They married on June 8, 1997, but just four months later Heather was shot. John was in the car at the time, but was only grazed by a bullet.
Paramedics managed to revive her, but she was soon diagnosed as a quadriplegic and faced a long period of rehabilitation and care, something she was confident John could provide.
‘He was loving, very caring. If there was anything that was going to make my situation better, he was going to do that,’ she said.
IN THE HOSPITAL: SURVIVING AGAINST THE ODDS – AND TRANSFERRING TO ANOTHER WARD UNDER A FAKE NAME TO AVOID HER ON-THE-LOOSE EX
Heather was in a bad way.
So bad, in fact, that doctors took John and her mother to one side and told him it would have been better if Heather had died.
‘They didn’t think I was going to make it through, I was so damaged. They told them it would have been easier if I’d gone.’
To the doctors’ surprise, Heather kept improving. She had lost control of the muscles in her neck, meaning she would need a neck brace for life keeping her head up.
It wasn’t until a month after the shooting that doctors gave Heather a trach to breath semi-independently, once they determined that there was a chance of survival and she would be able to talk because her voice box hadn’t been blown out.
A week later, with Ron still on the run, police told the hospital they were concerned for Heather’s safety, and she was transferred with her family from Florida to Colorado, registered under the name Heather Coffman for safety.
Gathering the strength to finally leave the hospital once she was rehabilitated was an almost indescribable struggle.
‘I was very depressed,’ she said.
‘I called my priest, I was terrifying, seeing all these other quadriplegic and paraplegic people. I was terrified of going out in the world with my disability. My priest said, “Heather, you have so much faith and love for your family and your children, you can be strong, look at what you have done already.” So I pulled through.’
Heather has won awards for her public speaking about domestic violence
THE ROUND-THE-CLOCK TREATMENT HEATHER HAD TO ADJUST TO – AND THAT SHE STILL NEEDS TO THIS DAY
‘I have 24-hour nursing to cover my whole day,’ Heather explains.
‘Any minute I could have a plug come off meaning I can’t breathe, or I develop mucus, and I could die.’
The nurses monitor Heather’s trach all day, and make sure her neck brace in place, including the scarf which connects the brace to her head to keep her head up.
They also have to clean out the mucus from her lungs on a regular basis, because she cannot cough. It could be four times a day, it could be 20 times a day. The process involves sticking a tube down her trach into her lungs.
‘It’s not comfortable,’ Heather said. ‘You get used to it over time, but the first time I was ever “suctioned” I thought I was going to throw up, and you still get that feeling sometimes.’
Heather is one of the minority of people who get state support for round-the-clock care. Since moving to her parents’ home state of Arizona to be closer to family, she has been awarded 86 hours of nursing a week. That leaves 82 uncovered – costing an extra $8,000 a month.
‘I couldn’t go an hour without nursing. I need highly-skilled nurses to keep me alive,’ Heather explains.
‘I would be dead in a couple of months if I went into a nursing home. At my high level, how are they going to take care of somebody like me? Those poor nurses don’t have the time or resources. That’s why the state tries to keep people like me in their own homes. So that’s what my life is like.’
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STRIKES AGAIN: HEATHER’S ‘LOVING’ SECOND HUSBAND TURNED ABUSIVE THREE YEARS AFTER SHE BECAME WHEELCHAIR-BOUND
Ron by this point had fled to Mexico, temporarily avoiding justice, so Heather and her family tried to get on with their lives.
But Heather and her children were soon thrown into the realms of domestic violence again, just three years after her shooting.
She says he spat in her face, slapped her, tossed garbage on her bed, threw bags of dog feces at her, smeared food on her face, locked her in a bedroom away from her children, threatened the youngster and called them names.
Heather says John (left) spit in her face, slapped her, tossed garbage on her bed, threw bags of dog feces at her, smeared food on her face while she was in a her wheelchair
She called the police and tried to bring assault charges against John, but they went nowhere. Eventually, after secret 911 calls and help from her parents, she had him removed from the house.
In 2005 he died of a heart attack.
The same year Ron was released from jail in Mexico and returned to court in Florida where he was given a life sentence.
Ever since Heather has been relying on her family for care, and her father-in-law Bud to cover some of the medical bills.
Her two sons threw themselves into helping with the family’s sandal business, while getting their degrees, while her daughter graduated and got a top job, but was forced to move back to Arizona to help with care.
‘I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO’: HEATHER’S FAMILY FACED WITH PANIC OF HOW TO SURVIVE – AND PAY HER MEDICAL BILLS – AFTER HER FATHER’S SUDDEN DEATH BY CANCER
In October 2017, Heather’s father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that then spread to his brain and other parts of his body.
Prior to his diagnosis, he was fighting fit, playing tennis three times a week.
He died within eight months, on Thursday June 21, 2018.
Her mother, 76, was unable to keep the sandal business running on her own. Eventually, the manufacturer decided to retire and close all operations.
The family is now desperately searching for a new manufacturer. For now, they have now income that would be enough to cover Heather’s care and her mother’s day-to-day.
They have now set up a GoFundMe in a bid to raise money to tide over their family and keep Heather’s care while they search for a new manufacturer.
Within months of his diagnosis, Heather’s father passed away from cancer. The family is still reeling
TRYING TO STAY POSITIVE
Despite the horrifying experiences she has gone through, Heather takes positives from her ordeals.
She was given only seven years to live, but has survived for 18. She is a consultant for the US Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and a frequent victims-rights speaker and advocate for victims of domestic violence
‘I’m a survivor. When I look bad I am proud I left the situations I was in. Nobody deserves to be a victim of domestic violence,’ she said.
Lauren Grossman, Heather’s daughter, said: ‘My mom is the most incredible parent, friend and survivor. Her strength still impresses me every day. Her courage and dedication to parenting and making a difference is inspirational and she has done so much to bring attention to domestic violence and to those who are newly injured. I am incredibly proud to call her my mother.’