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Travis Forbes' victim Lydia Tillman gets a happy ending: Hospital gets patient's damaged violin fixed

10:14 PM, Mar 1, 2012   |    comments
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Lydia Tillman receives the gift of a lifetime - a restored violin. (Andy Buck/9NEWS)

Tillman was nearly killed by now-convicted killer Travis Forbes in July 2011. Forbes broke into her apartment, sexually assaulted her, beat her, tried to strangle her and set her apartment on fire. 

After Forbes left her to die in her burning apartment, Tillman jumped out of her second-story window. That action saved her life, but left her extremely injured.

Intensive Care Unit

Tillman, 31, was in the University of Colorado Hospital's Intensive Care Unit for five weeks. While she was there, around 30 people, between doctors and nurses, helped bring her back to life.

"[Forbes] injured her brain. He shattered her jaw. He strangled her neck," Robert Neumann, medical director of neurological and neurosurgical ICU at UCH, said. "He bruised her lungs and broke ribs. She also had a shattered left wrist, shattered left ankle, multiple large bruises from stomping injuries and some amount of gastro-intestinal bleeding."

Neumann bonded with Tillman - a rare story for a doctor who sees multiple patients every day. 

"Part of the bond for me occurred in kind of a humorous way. We were beginning to wake her up out of coma," Neumann said, "at a point when she had a fair amount of drugs in her body, enough to make most people quite sleepy. She took a swing at me with her left arm. I knew we had somebody with a fair amount of spirit in our hands."

Even after spending so much time in the ICU, Tillman doesn't remember any of it.

Most of the time, the ICU team does not get to meet the patients who come out of their unit. So recently, Tillman went to UCH to meet them.

"Lydia!" one nurse exclaimed.

"Sorry, we're strangers hugging you, but it's so good to see you," another said.

"This is what makes our job worth it, truly," Kathi Waite, nurse manager of the neuro ICU at UCH, said. 

It was an emotional reunion for Tillman and the people who care for her. Tillman asked the staff what their positions were and gave them bracelets and T-shirts as gifts.

"Unquestionably, she's inspirational to our staff," Neumann said. "In Lydia's case, she did disproportionately well. She did better than I think we predicted. In that way, she gives us hope, and that allows us to give hope to others."

Tillman was not the only person who bestowed gifts that day.

The Violin

Tillman's violin was in the closet during the fire and was slightly damaged. 

On the day of the visit, nurses and Neumann gave Tillman the violin. Neumann had paid Rock Eggen and his apprentice Sam Gathman of Eggen Violins to fix the instrument.

Tillman may not be able to play the violin immediately. Since her stroke, she has trouble feeling the fingers on her right hand. Despite her injuries, she is excited to get her instrument back.

"My brain is going to work hard in different ways," Tillman said.

Eggen and Gathman did not know Tillman's story, but they took fixing her violin to heart.

"I think it's difficult for her to talk," Gathman said. "So, if she can play, that's a way for her to communicate and show how she is feeling. It's kind of a small way for her to celebrate her story and help her with her ongoing recovery."

Travis Forbes

9NEWS asked Tillman about Forbes - her attacker. She said the same thing she told him in court.

"Travis Forbes, you caused [me] no harm. My spirit and my mind remain untouched. May you find peace in this life," Tillman said. "I really believe that."

Forbes confessed to attacking Tillman and killing Aurora teenager Kenia Monge. He's serving life in prison.

Tillman's new life

Tillman says her job right now is to get better. She has therapy every day, whether it be speech, occupational or physical. She talks slowly and deliberately.

Neumann says, at one point, the doctors were concerned about her ability to speak.

"It really does make a huge difference in terms of outcome and recovery if someone can express themselves, and of course, understand what other people are telling them," Neumann said. "We were worried she would lose motor control on her right side, and she has recovered remarkably."

Neumann gave Tillman all the credit for how far she's come since her attack.

"She really did the hard work," he said. "She was the one hauling the freight; she really did it."

"I want to enjoy this life as much as possible," Tillman said. "And I hope others do the same."

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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