Gun violence victim's courage inspires others

February 7, 2012 3:22:46 PM PST
Two years ago, a young Chicago man became the victim of gun violence. Ondelee Perteet now faces life as a quadriplegic.

His determination and success in regaining some of his mobility is nothing short of inspiring.

When you're 17, in a wheelchair, and you can't do those things we all take for granted, you have a lot of time to think and question. What are my choices? What am I to become?

"I think people dig down deep to places they didn't even know they had," said Dr Lisa, Thornton at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital.

Dr. Thornton has watched Ondelee during his roughly two years of intense therapy at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. He's come a long way, but he has, she says, a permanent level of paralysis that will be with him for the rest of his life.

Ondelee is not prepared to accept limits so long as can continue his remarkable progress. Last week, he walked unassisted with a cane for 20 feet. Next time, he says, it'll be 40 feet.

"The desire to live a full life in spite of what is clearly a tragedy is amazing. And so we see our patients, much of the time, find an inner strength that is really wonderful to behold," said Thornton.

"I learned that I could do anything if I put my mind to it," Ondelee told ABC7. "I learned that I could do it. I'm strong. I'm a man now."

Ondelee now has a role he never wanted but seems to have embraced. He has become a face and voice of those victimized by gun violence. He has spoken to his peers in schools. He's been given awards for his courage and determination.

"I just pray and pray and pray and just kept getting better. Now I'm on the verge of walking," Ondelee told the congregation at St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side.

Recently, at his church St Sabina, a young man approached Ondelee and told him that he was his inspiration.

"I was like, wow. I was like, wow. Me?" said Ondelee. "I was like that's something. You know that made me feel good."

"For someone to come up to my son and say, we follow you, you made an impact in my life, you make me want to be good and do better. That's a great thing," said Deetreena Perteet, Ondelee's mother.

ABC7's stories on Ondelee are not meant to suggest that he's fallen into a pattern of life that's acceptable. The reality is it's horribly difficult, and Ondelee has said as much.

In his victim impact statement to the court last Friday, Ondelee said, "I'm always smiling for the cameras, but don't get it twisted, i am in pain every day and have been for over two years." But his courage - that inner resolution to go on despite the obstacles - has won praise and created high expectation. His mom says it's about turning a negative into a positive.