‘You have to keep fighting’: Longmont mother navigates recovery after being shot in the neck, thigh

‘You have to keep fighting’: Longmont mother navigates recovery after being shot in the neck, thigh

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Two months after being shot in the neck and thigh in front of her kids, Nicki Douglass-Johansen is trying to return to normal life as a single mother of 7-year-old twins. 

The 37-year-old Longmont resident was released from University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus on April 3 after a two-week stay, most of which she spent in the trauma unit. During her stay, Douglass-Johansen underwent more than eight hours of open heart surgery and more than five hours of reconstructive jaw surgery while being intubated on and off.

She was rushed to the hospital March 20 after her ex-husband, Brandon Allen, reportedly shot her twice while she was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car in front of her home on Goshawk Drive. Her two children were in the backseat.

Allen then reportedly led law enforcement on a police pursuit through Longmont and Lyons while armed before being apprehend by a K-9 and brought into custody, where he currently remains on a $5 million bond. He is set for a preliminary hearing on July 26. 

Allen and Douglass-Johansen started dating in 2014 and later moved in together when Douglass-Johansen became pregnant with twins, she said. Douglass-Johansen said Allen became verbally and emotionally abusive and would threaten to take the kids, would punch walls and yell at her. In 2017 after Allen reportedly waved a kitchen knife and motioned for Douglass-Johansen to leave she decided call police. She said that day she left, knowing she’d never go back.

“I’m very, very lucky to be here,” Douglass-Johansen said. “It’s been a struggle. The incident was a struggle. The seven, almost eight years, was a struggle. But it could have been devastating.”

Longmont police investigate a shooting in the 1400 Block of Goshawk Drive in Longmont on March 20. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Longmont police investigate a shooting in the 1400 Block of Goshawk Drive in Longmont on March 20. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

‘I want to be here for my children’

Douglass-Johansen said she received about 21 pints of blood, suffered two strokes, permanent blindness in her right eye, endured severe nerve damage to her right vocal cord leading to a hoarse voice, has a bullet fragment in her lip that will require surgery, has multiple bullet fragments in her neck which may pose serious issues in the future, nerve damage and numbness in her jaw, and a bullet wound to her legs that’s caused soreness. 

“It’s just been day to day,” Douglass-Johansen said. “I’ve been able to walk, which is quite phenomenal. I’m able to talk, they did look at everything. My windpipe is okay, my esophagus is okay.”

Douglass-Johansen said doctors hypothesize that one of the bullets entered through the left side of her neck, shredded one of her right carotid arteries, hit the right side of her neck and “bounced all around,” before hitting her jaw, where the bullet shattered. 

Douglass-Johansen said her right carotid artery had to be completely reconstructed with graft from a femoral artery from an organ donor. 

Douglass-Johansen said doctors and medical professionals have said a lot of people don’t survive the injuries she endured. 

“I feel like everyone calls me a miracle and it’s hard to feel like that applies to me,” Douglass-Johansen said through tears. “I guess with miracles you think of these kings and the people who are in history books, and I know I won’t make history books.”

She continued, “How can I be a miracle? But then I learn what my body went through and I’m still here and I look at the clouds and hear the birds and I know that I might not have been here. Been without my children. I’m back in my house with my family.”

Despite her gratitude for being home, Douglass-Johansen said she’s been faced with one of the hardest parts of recovery — jumping right back into being a single mom. 

Douglass-Johansen said she still has the tasks she’s always had as a mother: doing laundry, grocery shopping and caring for her plants. But now she finds herself with limited mobility, shortness of breath and in need of more breaks, making it harder for her to keep up with the daily demands of parenthood. 

“I know you’re supposed to recover, it almost doesn’t exist though as a mom, and I don’t know how it could because I want to be here for my children,” Douglass-Johansen said. “I never wanted things to change. I don’t feel like I can tell them ‘no.’ I mean what do you say, ‘I can’t be here for you?’ Especially when they need me?”

Douglass-Johansen added, “I’m supposed to be strong and protect them, and now they see that someone can do this to me. It was never supposed to happen.”

Douglass-Johansen said her daughter told her teacher that when she grows up she wants to be like her mother because she’s so strong. 

“I do hear, when I’m in the hospital, of women in my position that didn’t make it, how much it goes on everyday and people who suffer through it, whose stories aren’t told,” Douglass-Johansen said. “People who don’t have the family I do. So maybe it is a miracle.”

From left: Nicki Douglass-Johansen and her mother Martha Douglass-Johansen pose for a portrait in Longmont on Tuesday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
From left: Nicki Douglass-Johansen and her mother Martha Douglass-Johansen pose for a portrait in Longmont on Tuesday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

‘They’re my heroes’

Douglass-Johansen’s mother, Martha, was in the house on the day of the shooting and said another aspect of the story that makes it a miracle was the immediate help Douglass-Johansen received. 

Douglass-Johansen happens to be neighbors with a former Marine, an emergency medical technician and a former sheriff’s office deputy who were all home at the time of the shooting. After hearing shots, they performed emergency aid, while another neighbor got the children from the car and brought them inside. Other neighbors who were home called 911. 

“They were immediately there,” Martha Douglass-Johansen said. “And had the knowledge of what to do until the paramedics got here.”

Added Nicki Douglass-Johansen, “Everyone here were heroes.”

She also expressed gratitude for the doctors, nurses and law enforcement for their work on the day of the shooting and the weekthat followed. 

“They all just did what they needed to do,” Nicki Douglass-Johansen said. “Down at Anschutz, the one doctor, when I was leaving, just said that the hours they practice on situations like this, he said all those run throughs, there’s normally one little mistake or something that happens, and he said but for you, everything went right. He said, ‘You’re why we come to work.’

“They’re my heroes,” she added. “I read about how (Allen) was apprehended and those police officers put their life on the line because he was armed and they stopped him and they did their jobs. They’re my heroes.”

Due to the extent of care Douglass-Johansen needed the day of the shooting and in the weeks following, she now is left with the looming medical costs. The family set up a GoFundMe for those interested in donating.

Moving forward, Douglass-Johansen said she wants to advocate for domestic violence survivors and raise awareness about mental health. 

“Even before this, even leading up to the incident, you have to keep fighting,” Nicki Douglass-Johansen said. “You have two choices and I think that’s the one thing I kept telling myself, even after this, is you either let things keep happening to you and you give up, or you take life for what it is and you do something about it. There’s two choices, period, in life. And there’s definitely one I could never live with. You just can’t give up, you just can’t.”

Douglass-Johansen said she still has a lot she wants to achieve. Prior to the shooting, she was a full-time biochemistry student at Colorado State University and she hopes to finish her degree. 

“I know life can be sad but it doesn’t stay that way,” she said. “There really is so much goodness and beautiful things that it’s hard not to want to fight or have strength, especially when you feel like you could’ve lost it.”


Resources:

In an emergency, victims should call 911. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can be reached at 800-799-7233. Those seeking emergency bilingual counseling, advocacy and shelter can call the Safe Shelter of St. Vrain crisis line at 303-772-4422. Those needing bilingual victim advocacy can call LEVI at 303-774-4534.

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