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June 14, 2013

I Survived


Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

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Blacksburg, Virginia
April 16, 2007

Habtu was a senior at Virginia Tech when Cho entered her German class.

I remember the moment I was shot: I looked at my wrist and saw a bullet wound. I had no idea that another bullet went through my jaw until I woke up after surgery later that day.

I stayed in the hospital for a month and was in rehab on my graduation day. I spent a week focusing on walking with my physical therapist so I could be part of the ceremony. When I got up on stage, everyone stood for me. That gave me strength.

The impact from the bullet realigned my face—it moved everything around. In fact, it's still there, 1 millimeter from my brain stem, which is why they can't take it out.

Two facial reconstruction surgeries later, I still have braces to straighten my teeth. But the physical healing was easier than the emotional healing. That summer, I had to start dealing with so many ramifications of the shooting, including mourning classmates who had died.

I finally sought out a mental health expert to help me with survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. So many people died around me that day—smart, kind, talented people who would have changed the world. I would think, Why am I still here? Now it is not so painful when people say, "We're so happy you're alive."

I just finished my master's degree in conflict resolution at George Mason University. I want to focus on helping people figure out how to live peacefully. Despite everything that's happened, I've learned to focus on living a happy life. This is our one life, and it is too precious to waste. @eliltatweets

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