A young woman who was shot in the head two months ago has made a dramatic recovery that some are calling a medical miracle.
Holly Ploof, 17, walked into a Burlington courthouse Friday to confront the former boyfriend accused of firing the shot that almost killed her. Four weeks ago, Ploof was fighting for her life with a less than 50-percent chance of survival. She won the fight-- and Friday she took steps to ensure the gunman who gravely wounded her knows it.
"Scary," she says-- of going to court to confront her ex-boyfriend, Dan Lavilette.
Nine weeks ago, he shot her once in the head at her family's Burlington apartment. He told police it was an accident. But he is charged with aggravated domestic assault and another gun related assault charge. He is accused of pointing a loaded gun at another teenage boy and threatening to kill him out of jealousy over a girl. In addition, police say that Lavilette was expelled from Burlington High School three years ago because he was caught trying to hide a loaded pistol on the roof of the school. He appeared in court Friday for a pre-trial status conference.
Holly was given little chance of survival from the nine-millimeter slug fired from about two and half feet away.
In court, she removed the protective helmet to reveal the scars of the life-saving surgery. The bullet entered the top of her head, shattered her skull, traveled through her brain and exited below her ear.
WCAX News Reporter Brian Joyce asks, "Are you amazed at how much you've recovered?"
"Yeah," Holly laughs.
"I'm amazed that she's doing as well as she does," agrees her mom, Cheryl. "I have a hard time convincing myself to let her do normal stuff, you know, being a protective mother."
Holly has recovered so well she is now living at home. She receives daily speech and physical therapy. She has the near-constant company of two her best friends. They attend to her demands for Al's French Fries hamburgers and her favorite beverage: "Coffee."
Her mother says doctors predict at least 85-percent full recovery over the next year-- and they do not rule out a 100-percent recovery.
Joyce asks, "Think that's gonna happen?"
Joyce: "You gonna make it happen?"
But for now, she still mostly speaks in single word phrases and her memory about the day she was shot has not yet returned. That could be a key factor when Lavilette goes to trial because she and Lavilette were the only ones in the apartment when she was shot.
Vt. Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna says, "If she can remember then of course that's what this case will turn on."
Hanna says if Holly Ploof's ability to remember and testify how and why her boyfriend shot her will be the key testimony when the case goes to trial this summer. But if she can't remember, the state still has strong circumstantial evidence that could force Lavilette to explain what happened.
"In these cases juries want to hear from the defendant. If the defendant claims it was an accident they want hear from him and they want to be able to believe him. So, unless he takes the stand, it's going to be still a very difficult case for him to win," says Hanna.
But trial is still several months away. For now Holly Ploof is enjoying just being alive, which included a special trip to a spa Friday evening for a girls night our with her girlfriends.