Survivor still healing three years after Pulse tragedy

Jeff Xavier has had dozen surgeries

ORLANDO, Fla. – To see Jeff Xavier walking with ease, it might be easy to forget what he's been through.

When we met at The Center, Orlando's LGBTQ community center, seeing a quilt with photos of the 49 people who were killed immediately took him back.

"I could have been on this wall as we speak," he said. "I almost was.

Huddled in a bathroom stall with friends and strangers, Jeff was shot four times when the shooter shot under and over into the stall.

He nearly bled to death in the hours that followed before being rescued. Xavier was hospitalized for weeks.

"The anxiety is high, emotions are high when the day comes," he said of June 12, the day of the shooting.

Three years later, the physical wounds are healing, but Jeff still has two bullets in his body. The long-term effects of being shot multiple times are all too real.

"I still don't have feeling in my foot. I have spasms in my leg," he said. "It happens randomly. There's times that I'm walking and I fall flat on my face. I'm used to it at this point. So I'll just start laughing." 

Spasms in his right leg, coupled with sporadic numbness on the left side of his body, keep him from driving and working. Xavier is by no means alone.

In the days and weeks after the Pulse attack, Joel Morales worked as a case manager for survivors and family members of the victims. He is still in contact with many of them and still helping them get the assistance they need.

"It really doesn't surprise me that people are still dealing with physical and emotional trauma," Morales said. "I'm actually connected to survivors from other tragedies and what I'm learning is they're probably still healing five or 10 years down the road."

Over the past three years, Xavier has already had 12 surgeries, and doctors say he could need two more.

Xavier said his goal is to continue looking forward.

"It's something that may never fully go away for any of us," he said. “The same goes for 9/11, and our brothers and sisters at Parkland and Vegas. This is something we're all going to be dealing with probably for the rest of our lives."

The Center is offering free counselors all day on Wednesday, June 12 for anyone who needs it. No appointment is necessary. The Center also has counselors available year-round on select days.

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