Natasha McShane: Two years on
Two years ago today, an incident across the Atlantic Ocean in America sent shock-waves throughout the Newry and Mourne community.
On 23rd April 2010 Natasha McShane, 23, from Silverbridge, was brutally attacked in Chicago and beaten close to death.
Fast forward two years and Natasha – the eldest of five children – is wheelchair bound; unable to walk, talk or do the normal things a 25 year old should be doing.
Natasha’s parents, Liam and Sheila McShane, told an American newspaper this week that their daughter is now confined to the living room of their South Armagh home, where she sits in a chair peering out the window.
Natasha has her good and bad days according to Liam. Sometimes, on a good day, Natasha might smile but on bad days “she just cries”.
Then, her parents cradle her and whisper: “You’re OK. You’re OK.” Natasha relies on her parents now to dress her and assist her with bathroom duties.
Despite never giving up hope of a full recovery for Natasha, father Liam says they have experienced a number of setbacks. “You think she is going to get better, but it actually gets worse. You think, ‘In six months she’ll be doing this or be doing that.’ But the months pass and there is no progress.”
Even harder to comprehend is why this is now Natasha’s life. Natasha was in the wrong place at the wrong time. An innocent victim out enjoying a few sociable drinks with her friend.
At approximately 3.30am on the night in question, Natasha and her friend Stacy Jurich were walking through the Bucktown area of Chicago. They had just left a local pub and were celebrating Natasha’s internship, which would allow her to extend her stay in Chicago.
Both girls were walking through 1800 block of North Damen Avenue and chatting when they were approached from behind and beat with a baseball bat by vicious mugger Heriberto Viramontes (33), a gang member.
Viramontes then made off in a getaway car driven by his friend Marcy Cruz (27) but both were arrested soon after.
Lying on the street bloodied and beaten, Natasha’s friend Jurich somehow managed to muster up the strength to pick herself off the ground and hail down a passing taxi in a desperate plea for help.
The quick-thinking of Jurich meant that it wasn’t long until the emergency services arrived on the scene and treated both girls. Natasha was hospitalised for several months and initially the doctors said they were happy with her recovery.
These early positives resulted in Natasha leaving Chicago by air ambulance in July 2010 after she had begun to eat, walk and say a few words.
After arriving back in her own country, Natasha had surgery in Belfast to replace a section of her skull, which resulted in a turn for the worst. A serious infection developed and this was followed by seizures and a build-up of fluids on her brain.
Since then, the positives gradually waned and early indications of a road to recovery looked even more unlikely than ever. Natasha regressed quickly and soon walking and speaking was no longer possible.
In the summer of 2011 Natasha had a metal plate put in her head and just six months ago doctors discovered her hip was broken, but were unsure whether this happened during the attack or in the months afterwards.
Liam continued, “No speech, no walking, the hip broken, in the hospital and laid up on medication…It’s very hard to watch her like that.”
One word that Natasha repeats frequently is ‘shin’, but her father and the rest of the family don’t know what it means. “Shin could mean a hundred things,” says Liam.
Sheila and Liam now used flashcards to try and communicate with their daughter and she points to what she wants but her parents aren’t convinced she remembers anything from her old life or even knows exactly what happened to her.
Her grandmother Bernadette McShane, who comes over daily to provide Natasha with conversation and some company said, “There’s not much you can do except spend time with her.”
Last September the family celebrated Natasha’s 25th Birthday and her grandmother continued, “We sang happy birthday, and she enjoyed it. She smiled.”
Family members say they can still see glimmers of the Natasha McShane they once knew. She still has an independent streak and likes to do things for herself.
When a niece and nephew — both toddlers — come for a visit, McShane holds out her arm for a hug. “She was always a very affectionate person,” her grandmother added.
Hope gets the McShane family through every day. Hope that one day Natasha will recover fully from her horrendous injuries and ordeal.
Hope that she might one day be able to live a life similar to everybody else her age. Hope that smalls things that are taken for granted, like walking and talking, might one day be something Natasha can do without the aid of family, flashcards or wheelchairs.
Because, Liam adds, without hope, “you wouldn’t get through it”.