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Parete defies predictions after doctors remove bullet Officer demonstrates upper body mobility

Three weeks after Patricia Parete took a bullet to her spine and doctors told her loved ones she could spend the rest of her life as a quadriplegic, she is showing them all just how much fight she has in her.

On Wednesday, five days after doctors removed the .38-caliber slug that was lodged in her neck, she amazed her physical therapist by slightly pulling up her upper body -- on her own -- with the fibrous muscles between her neck and shoulders.

It's not the only sign that the 41-year-old Buffalo police officer may be recovering.

Doctors at Erie County Medical Center are gradually trying to wean Parete off the ventilator that enables her to breathe.

For short periods at a time, the doctors adjust her ventilator on a setting that puts Parete in control of her breathing.

The disfiguring swelling of her body has subsided and she looks like the petite and athletic fitness buff she was before the shooting, her loved ones said.

She also has gotten her sense of humor back -- mouthing little jokes to her visitors.

"I would define it as baby steps," Parete's weary, determined mother, Dorothea "Dot" Parete, said Thursday. "But they're going in the right direction."

Parete's parents, her companion of a year and a half, Maryellen Opalinski, and her friends are resolute in their belief that she will recover. They call themselves "Patty's 100 Percent Crew."

There's a black T-shirt emblazoned with that phrase in big white letters hanging on the wall of the small conference room in Erie County Medical Center where they gather while taking turns visiting Parete at her bedside.

"The doctors . . . She was given zero percent chance at the beginning," Parete's friend, Carol Schiferle, explained.

Zero percent chance of ever regaining any movement or feeling below the neck.

"But everyone decided no," Schiferle said. "She's going to make a 100 percent recovery." Schiferle looked across the table at Dot Parete. "Right, Ma?"

"Absolutely," Dot Parete replied with all the conviction she could muster.

Doctors still don't know the full extent of the damage caused by the bullet, allegedly fired by a teenager on probation who apparently was afraid of going to prison.

A second officer, Carl E. Andolina, also was shot but was less severely wounded.

The surgery to remove the bullet in Parete's neck -- which took place last Friday -- was a major milestone in her recovery and brought a sense of relief to Parete and her family.

"I'm glad it's out," Dot Parete said. "There was a foreign object in there and that was upsetting me. I'm Mommy. I worry . . . She's my baby."

Patty Parete now faces at least one more surgery -- this time to stabilize the vertebrae in her neck. Then, she'll be ready for an MRI, which should give a more definitive picture of her prognosis.

Every day since the Dec. 5 shooting, dozens of Parete's loved ones have gathered at ECMC to show their support.

Opalinski, a neonatal nurse by profession, has been tending day and night to Parete and keeping track of her medical issues.

Lt. John King shuttles Dot Parete back and forth from her home to the hospital.

Two of Parete's friends, who had been keeping vigil at the hospital, now are traveling across the country checking out rehabilitation centers for her.

The people of Buffalo, almost all of them strangers, also have stepped up to help in ways that have left Dot Parete awestruck.

"I'm overwhelmed at their generosity and their love and caring," she said.

Two Buffalo nightclubs -- Club Marcella and Cathode Ray -- have thrown fundraisers for the Parete fund.

Students from South Park High School sent Christmas stockings stuffed with get-well cards and holiday greetings, along with a check for $500. The faculty of School 80 chipped in to make a donation and the principal of the school hand-delivered a box of chocolates on Christmas Eve.

Restaurants across the city also have turned out in droves to provide treats for Parete's loved ones as they wait their turn to visit her.

Oliver's sent over a gourmet dinner for the whole crew on Christmas. Bona Pizza delivers a pizza every day.

The family has even received word that Jay Leno, who learned that Parete is a motorcycle enthusiast, is arranging to donate an autographed Harley-Davidson for auction.

While the hospital bills and rehab costs will likely be covered by insurance, Parete's loved ones know there will be many more expenses.

Opalinski and Parete will need to move to a new apartment, since the second floor apartment they have now will not be accessible. They also will need to buy a special therapy bike that transmits electrical impulses through pads that will stimulate her leg muscles. Such bikes retail for about $25,000.

Friends are now trying to organize a big fundraising event to help with such costs.

They also have set up a fund that will go directly to Parete's rehab needs. Any donations can be sent to: Patricia A. Parete Fund, P.O. Box 682, Kenmore, NY 14217. Information about future fundraisers or how to help is available by calling 636-1888.

Parete has been surprised and touched by the outpouring of support, her visitors reported.

A couple of days ago, Parete, who can mouth words but cannot vocalize because of the tracheotomy tube in her throat, asked Opalinski to make a list of everyone who had sent a get well card.

"Patty, I can't," Opalinski said.

"Why not?" Parete asked, perplexed.

"There are hundreds," Opalinski said.

"Wow," Parete mouthed.

Parete also seems to be worried about her family and loved ones. Although she hates to be alone, she appears to be aware of the toll of their constant vigils.

"She told me [Wednesday] night to go home," Dot Parete said. "Go home, mom," she mouthed.

"She also thanked me," she recounted.

"I told her, 'That's implied. I'm your mother. You don't ever have to thank me.' "

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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