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Parete a police officer, and much more Family and friends cite her warmth and caring

You've seen the steely police portrait of Patricia A. Parete.

Now, her family and friends who are keeping vigil around the clock in Erie County Medical Center want Buffalo to know the Patty they all know and love.

Her mother, Dorothea "Dot" Parete, pointed to a blown-up photograph of her daughter, with her mane of gorgeous black curls unleashed, next to Carl A. Andolina, who was wounded alongside her Tuesday night. The photo was taken the night they graduated from the Police Academy in 2001.

In it, Parete is flashing a wide, electric smile.

"That's her," her mother said.

"Being a police officer -- that's her profession, but she's so much more," said her companion of 1 1/2 years, Maryellen Opalinski.

Dot Parete looked across the conference room the hospital had set aside for all of her daughter's well-wishers. The table was overflowing with food and cold drinks, flowers and snapshots as Parete's friends and loved ones all shared funny stories and happy memories of the wounded woman.

It is a testament, Dot Parete and her daughter's friends agreed, to her warm and loving personality.

"I'm doing well because Patty's got the greatest support here," her mother said gratefully.

Sunday, five days after Parete took a bullet to her neck, she is continuing to show some small but promising signs of improvement.

Parete's loved ones were excited to learn that she is a full week ahead of where doctors thought she would be.

She is progressing so well, they said, doctors have begun weaning her off her sedatives and pain medication. As a result, she has become more alert.

She cannot speak yet, but that's only because her jaw had to be wired shut and she has a tracheotomy tube that is helping her breathe.

"She can communicate," her mother said. "She's able to move her head back and forth to say 'yes' or 'no. "

She also blinks: once for yes, twice for no.

They also help her communicate by spelling out the alphabet until she indicates a letter, and then they use that clue to guess the word she's trying to say.

She also has been baring her teeth, signaling her unhappiness with her inability to open her mouth, and friends are convinced that the moment the wires come out of her mouth, she will be yelling orders at them.

Doctors likely won't know for days, even weeks, the extent of the damage the bullet caused.

>One day at a time

But her family and friends said Sunday that they know she's going to beat the odds, one day at a time.

"She continues to improve," her mother said.

Over the weekend, Parete's loved ones sat down to write out a statement about her that they shared with The Buffalo News.

They're determined to let the public know how remarkable a woman she is.

"The thing that makes Patty loved and truly unique is how she has always, since she was a little girl, brought people together and created friendships and bonds that have affected lives in ways that mend the difficulties and differences of everyday life," the statement read. "She is a healer."

Hundreds of visitors have poured into the hospital in the days since she was shot, they pointed out. "The stories that echo throughout the halls are too many to write," they wrote.

Sunday, the friends gathered again, between visiting hours at the hospital, and related in person their fondest memories of Parete.

They said Parete is famous among her friends for remembering people's birthdays and would design elaborate, personalized greeting cards for them, using her artistic and computer skills.

They talked about her passion for her Harley-Davidson V-Rod motorcycle and the outdoors.

They recalled her near obsession with physical fitness -- how the 5-foot-6, 120-pound woman had nearly zero percent body fat.

Dot Parete spoke of how proud her daughter was of being accepting into the Police Department at age 36. She also talked of her daughter's never-ending generosity.

"A couple of years ago, she bought me a laptop so I could use it in my living room," she said.

>Her love for animals

And they all had stories about her love for animals, from the way she doted and tended to her ailing 14-year-old Chihuahua, Elliott, to the critters she cared for at the Buffalo Animal Shelter, where she often volunteered.

Her friend Carol Schiferle recalled how, four years ago, Parete stopped by her home while she and her partner were out to check on Schiferle's dogs.

As Parete let the dogs out, she noticed that one of them, Agnes, another Chihuahua, was lying lifeless on the floor, not breathing and apparently paralyzed.

"She gave Agnes mouth-to-nose resuscitation," Schiferle said. Parete then scooped up the tiny animal in her arms and drove her to the veterinarian's office, "blowing through every red light and stop sign on the way."

The dog lived, and today "she is 7 and running around and fully recovered," Schiferle said.

Parete's loved ones are praying that she, too, will make a full recovery.

They have all pledged to stick through the recovery with her.

>Fundraisers planned

As friends, family members and acquaintances come to meet each other, they are realizing each has a talent or training in something that could help Parete.

Opalinski is a registered nurse, for example. Another friend is a lawyer.

As they all wait and keep vigil, Dot Parete is thanking the public for the overwhelming support for her daughter.

Hundreds and hundreds of cards, e-mails and letters have arrived at the hospital, and people have begun organizing fundraisers on her behalf.

"We are very appreciative of the support," she said. "We need all of the positive energy we can get."

Now, she can only ask for one thing.

"Give me back my daughter," she said.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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