(ARIZONA'S FAMILY) - A visit from Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad to help a survivor of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting turned into a community movement for a San Tan Valley mother shot during the 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas.
"On Oct. 1, a part of me changed," Jovanna Calzadillas said at the press conference announcing her release from the hospital. "Even though I will not be the same old Jovanna, I will come back stronger."
Calzadillas was one of hundreds injured while attending the Las Vegas festival.
Following a recovery that doctors called "profound" and "amazing," Calzadillas, a mother of two, was released to return home to her young family who knew going home with her new limitations, confined to a wheelchair, would be a challenge.
On Jan. 25, Tess Rafols, "Good Morning Arizona" anchor and part of Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad, visited the Calzadillas family.
"We know it may be a little hard to get around the house," said Rafols. "We are here to show some of the things that we will be doing to help with your home, to make home life a little easier with your recovery," she said as she presented Jovanna and her husband, Frank, with a list of all the improvements in store.
Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad partnered with Safeway/Albertson’s and the nonprofit Rebuilding Together to make the house wheelchair accessible, but the efforts snowballed into a complete renovation when businesses from around the community eagerly joined the effort.
Four months later, Rafols revisited the family to see how the improvements were helping Calzadillas' recovery.
"How are you feeling today?" asked Rafols.
"It’s been a rollercoaster for me," Calzadillas responded.
"Every time I think about it I get sad and then my kids come to me and I get so happy," she said thoughtfully, her young daughter perched on her lap. "My speech has gotten better. And I can walk with a cane, with my husband’s help."
"It’s unclear as far what the end is going to look like but we’re not going to give up," Frank said. "We never thought that she wasn’t going to be OK or else we would not have made the decision to keep her alive."
The bullet traveled through Calzadillas' brain, leaving her in such critical condition that Las Vegas doctors advised the family to take her off life support.
"I imagine it’s made everything a little easier just being able to go on a floor that works for you or a backyard that’s paved for you," said Rafols.
"It’s amazing to come home now to the upgrades," Calzadillas said.
In the four months since Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad first arrived, the family’s home has undergone massive changes.
The kitchen was transformed to meet Calzadillas' physical challenges. It has new countertops, a designer back-splash, appliances, touch faucet, cabinets with pull-out shelves and doors that close softly as loud noises can trigger the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with which she and her husband now live.
Other upgrades include new, smoother flooring that was installed in the family room and a double sliding glass door for easier access to a beautiful, fully landscaped backyard and patio. The backyard was previously not landscaped and made it tough for Calzadillas to spend time outside in her wheelchair.
"We come back here in the yard and relax," she said with a smile.
"After therapy," Frank added.
"Yes. It helped for my wheelchair, easier and even the upstairs changes. My shower, it’s a walk-in," Calzadillas said.
Both bathrooms were made wheelchair accessible, with the master bath shower expanded to three times the size of a normal shower. The couple’s bedroom closets were also improved
"The kitchen is also therapy for me," Calzadillas said.
"It’s way accessible, too," Frank added.
"What do you think of the community rallying behind you guys?" Rafols asked.
"It’s good to see the good people come out and support us," Calzadillas answered.
"A lot of these people, they have kids, they have wives and husbands and when they start helping us, they’re like, when something bad happens, or if it does happen later on, you know, they want that same support, you know what I’m saying?' Frank said. "Like they want the community coming back to help, not just us but everybody that needs it."
"Are there ever bad days anymore?" Rafols asked.
"Yes," Calzadillas said.
"Oh, yeah. When she first woke up, she didn’t remember anything and now she’s starting to remember what happened that night," Frank elaborated. "When we go to bed, it’s still hard. You know? When you’re all by yourself it’s still hard. You think about it.
"I think about all the families that lost somebody that night," he continued. "They would give anything to be in our shoes. We went back to Las Vegas, the ACM invited us to go back, and we met a lot of people there and it was truly an eye-opener. When you talk to them, you still feel the pain that they’re going through, especially the people who lost loved ones.
"I know they look at Jovanna and I could see it in their eyes, like they just wish it was their loved one there and they wish they could be in my shoes to take care of her and that’s what gets me through the day."
Frank gazed at his wife and choked up, reflecting on the past few months.
"Every time I wake up and I have to do everything, I don’t care cause she’s still here," he said.
The couple received an outpouring of gifts, including an autographed ball from the Pittsburgh Steelers (the family’s favorite professional football team) and a personal visit from their favorite country artist, Jason Aldean. He was on stage when the first shots were fired that night.
Aldean also gave the family an autographed guitar.
"He came to the hospital; he had a private visit with us for an hour," Calzadillas said.
Nestled amongst the fan memorabilia sits a small autographed cowboy boot. He signed it when she was in the hospital.
"That night she lost one boot and that’s the only one they were able to find, so when he came over to visit, he grabbed that boot and signed it," Frank explained.
"That’s why so many community members wanted to come together because look at this fighter, you know, we’ve got to do whatever we can to support her," said Rafols.
"I can’t thank them enough," Calzadillas. "I want to tell them thank you."
"Life would definitely be a lot harder, it would make this process harder," Frank added. "They didn’t just help Jovanna, you know. They saved me. They saved my kids."
The Calzadillas family is thankful for the companies and volunteers who helped transform their home.
"We came here in January to first surprise you guys; did you guys ever think it would turn into this?" Rafols asked.
"Uh, I’ve seen your shows," Calzadillas said with a laugh. "Thank you for all you have done."
"Yeah, thank you, Channel 3," Frank said.
Thank you to the following companies for helping with this surprise: American Furniture Warehouse, NV & Sons Builders, Structures Stucco LLC, Roofing Southwest, Delta Electric and Air, LLC, Premier Lighting, Select Interiors, Sierra Waste Systems, California Closets, 161st Goldwater Air National Guard, TurfHub, Lennar, Chasse Building Team, Crystal Creek Consulting, NatureScape, Marvel Masonry, Van Zuiden Flooring, USAA volunteers, and Lowe’s.