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Teen shot protecting friend has healed -- but life will never be the same

Rony Monztook multiple bullets protect his pal Daneysi Valdovinos. He's now recovering. |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Rony Monzon took multiple bullets to protect his pal Daneysi Valdovinos. He's now recovering. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Special Report: Chicago Under Fire
Map: 2012 Chicago shootings and homicides
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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:05AM



Rony Monzon never felt the bullets as they ripped through his flesh.

Fired from a gang member’s 9mm handgun, they passed through him in less than one-hundredth of a second and lodged in an outside wall of his home. The pain would come later.

Now, a month after the shooting, all that the 14-year-old from the Southwest Side can remember is the flash of the muzzle and the earsplitting bang! bang! bang! just five feet from his face.

“I didn’t know I was hit,” said Rony, sitting in the upstairs living room at his family’s two-flat apartment in Brighton Park.

Below him was the front stoop where he took three bullets on July 11 to save the life of his 14-year-old friend and neighbor, Daneysi Valdovinos.

His right forearm, fractured by one of the bullets, was covered by a plaster cast. Four dime-sized scars marked the spots where two more slugs entered and exited his body. One — just a couple of inches above his heart — drew a gasp from his mother, Diana, when he pulled up his T-shirt to reveal it, even though she had carefully washed and dressed the wound for weeks.

“It didn’t hurt, at first,” Rony recalled, able to smile about it now.

But his mother’s face betrayed the angst she’s felt. Since the shooting, she has quit her job and her studies to take care of her son. She’s lost weight, and she has nightmares.

Rony, hailed as a hero, displayed a teenager’s shy bravado talking about what he’s gone through. But then he looked outside, and his bluster faded.

“I don’t go outside after dark any more,” he said quietly. “It’s too scary.”

♦♦♦

Chicago’s soaring homicide rate through the first seven months of 2012 has made national headlines. Most individual victims of the gun violence, though, don’t even get a few seconds of notice on the evening news. That’s because, like Rony, most of them survive. Through the end of July, the city had recorded 305 murders but 1,447 shooting victims — up 3 percent over the same period last year.

Like the increasing homicide rate that remains one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most pressing political problems, the number of shootings traces an upward arc that stubbornly defies the city’s overall reduction in crime.

For some among the thousands of shooting victims walking the streets, a non-fatal bullet wound is just the price of doing business, what they pay for their involvement with crime, say trauma surgeons who save the lives of five of every six gun-violence patients they see.

For others and their families, the brush with death is something that will forever change their lives.

♦♦♦

Rony and Daneysi were sitting on a bench, enjoying a nice summer’s evening, outside their apartment building in the 2400 block of West 47th Place. They were listening to Mexican ballads on Rony’s iPod and sharing a pepperoni pizza. Then, Daneysi saw a teenage gunman appear from the gangway to the west.

Still at large, he’s believed to be a member of the Two-Six street gang who got confused in the alley behind Rony’s home and mistook it for that of a member of the Two-Six’s rivals, the Satan Disciples, a few doors down, according to Chicago police Lt. Kevin Duffin.

Daneysi, whose family is from Mexico and who lives in the apartment below Rony’s, had been teasing Rony, whose family is Guatemalan, for his love of Mexican music when the shooter saw them, panicked, raised his gun and started firing, Daneysi said.

Rony jumped to his feet to protect her. He ended up taking bullets Daneysi is convinced would have hit her in the head.

After being shot, Rony bolted through the front door into Daneysi’s apartment.

“Her dad pointed to my chest and said, ‘You’re bleeding,’ ” Rony said.

When he looked down at his white tank top, blood stained it, spreading across his chest, back and abdomen.

He ran upstairs, grabbed the phone from his uncle and dialed 911.

By the time the ambulance got there, his mom had gotten home. She rode with him to the hospital. As he breathed through an oxygen mask on the way to Mount Sinai Hospital, he prayed to God, “Please don’t let me die,” and handed her a rosary.

In the minutes and hours that followed, the pain in his arm grew to feel like “the worst-ever bee sting,” but Rony never cried, not even later, after he’d been released from the hospital. It worried Diana Monzon and her friends, who told her, “He needs to let it out.”

Instead, Diana sobbed for both of them, and Rony was strong for his mom.

♦♦♦

“Children are more resilient,” said Dr. Michele Holevar, who treated Rony and says she saw no early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects many shooting victims.

In more than 20 years of trauma surgery experience, Holevar, Mount Sinai’s trauma division chief, says she has noticed a change in the type of injuries that shooting victims suffer. In the early 1990s, most cases she handled involved a single gunshot wound, often from a smaller-caliber .22 handgun. Today, she says, patients like Rony typically come to her with multiple gunshot wounds, more often from larger-caliber, higher-velocity weapons.

That makes surgeons’ jobs harder. But they’ve upped their game in response. Wounds that would have resulted in death 20 years ago, when Chicago’s homicide rate was nearly twice what it is today, are now survivable thanks to advances in trauma care, Holevar said.

In Rony’s case, the first signs were encouraging. He was stable when he arrived at the hospital, without the low blood pressure that would indicate severe hemorrhaging and a need for immediate surgery. His doctors had time to take X-rays, allowing them to confirm that a bullet had narrowly missed his esophagus and that all of his wounds were through-and-through.

To a frightened Rony, it seemed like a dozen doctors were hovering over him.

One of his lungs was bruised, and the pain, whenever pressure was placed on his wounds, was excruciating. But the encouraging words he heard the doctors say let him know he was going to be OK.

So many of his friends came to cry at his bedside that the hospital, fearful for his security, changed the name he was checked in under to “Joe Johnson” and then sneaked him out via a back door the next day to avoid the waiting TV cameras, his mother said.

♦♦♦

At home, something almost worse than a gangbanger’s gun was waiting — at least to a 14-year-old boy.

His friends ribbed an embarrassed Rony mercilessly, asking if he was going to marry Daneysi now that he’d saved her life.

If the following weeks of missing soccer games, sitting at the side of a friend’s pool in the searing summer heat, unable to dive in, and enduring his mother’s constant worries were frustrating for him, they were worse for Daneysi. Unlike Rony, she’d seen the Latino gunman’s angry, scared face, his polo shirt, shorts and baseball hat. Now, he was nowhere to be seen, but everywhere in her thoughts.

Like Rony’s mom, she, too, was having nightmares. Every firecracker or car that backfired in the street outside made her jump. Every time she left home, she was hyper-alert.

“I’m always looking out for the guy,” she said.

Her doctor prescribed her anxiety medication.

Diana Monzon was better at rationalizing. After the first few days, she reasoned that since Rony had nothing to do with gangs, the shooter wouldn’t be coming back for him.

Her fears now turned to finances. She had quit her baby-sitting job and, only weeks away from completing the GED she needed to be able to apply for better-paying jobs, dropped out to care for Rony.

A bill for $1,055 already had arrived from the city — and that was just for the four-mile ambulance ride to the hospital.

The bill from Mount Sinai hasn’t come yet. A hospital spokeswoman wouldn’t say how much it would be, though she did share a 1999 study that, adjusted for inflation, suggested the average gunshot patient’s treatment today costs nearly $16,000.

For a family without health insurance, that’s frightening, even if the state and the hospital will likely end up eating most of the bill — just another hidden cost of Chicago’s rising tide of gun violence.

Even as Rony’s wounds heal, something else remains hidden: the bench that Rony and Daneysi were sitting on the night of July 11 when everything suddenly changed in their young lives. Daneysi’s father took it away.

That’s something the neighbors took notice of. They understand. They’re not enjoying summer evenings on their stoops so often, either.

Said Rony: “Nobody’s going to sit out there again.”



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