The Cost of Crime: Perteet's rehab journey

February 7, 2012 9:48:16 AM PST
The emotional battle of a young gunshot victim in Chicago has been waged for two years now, but you may not realize his tragedy ends up costing us all.

His mom helps Ondelee Perteet limber up. He's about to show how far he's come since a bullet to the spine rendered him a quadriplegic.

He exercises at home now after two years of therapy at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. In Perteet's case, like many others, Medicaid pays the bill. For this kind of injury, that easily reaches $250,000 and up.

"It affects you as a taxpayer," said Deetreena Perteet, Ondelee's mother. "Your taxpayer money to care for him."

Deetreena Perteet is painfully aware. She had to leave her job to become a full-time caregiver. Add her lost income to the equation.

University of Chicago's Dr. Jens Ludwig has done extensive research on the cost of gun violence: the life-time of medical care, the chairs, the walkers, vehicles, income lost.

"Medical costs turn out to be just a small part of the larger picture," Ludwig said. "The total cost to society on average per gunshot wound is on the order of $1 million per gunshot injury, total social costs."

"The cost of these disabilities goes far beyond dollars, it moves into the realm of lost potential," said Dr. Lisa Thornton of Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital.

Where would Ondelee Perteet be headed were it not for what a young man with a gun did? That's for wondering. What's important, as Dr Thornton would say, is what happens in the now.

"I got to control my trunk, my arms, my legs," Perteet said. "It just takes a lot of energy to move all that stuff at once."

His goal on this day was to walk 20 feet on his own. Mission accomplished. His next goal is to double that. What he can do speaks to the strength of youth and the power of determination. And Perteet would add something else.

"My family, my family," he said. "That's what it is, that's the key. The family."

And for a mom who won't quit, there is great pride in a son who won't quit, but the burden a mother bears is quite often overpowering.

"Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and just want to throw my hands up," said Deetreena Perteet. "It won't allow me to. I can't. I reach down deep and say that God give me the strength of continue on."

The Perteets have set up a fund for those who wish to help:

The Determination Fund
P.O. Box 53598
Chicago, IL 60653