BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — It wasn’t the news Abbie Kopf wanted to hear.
The 14-year-old survivor of the Kalamazoo-area shooting rampage was hoping she would leave her latest checkup at Bronson Methodist Hospital with a surgery date.
In June, an infection forced Bronson doctors to remove the plastic plate that had returned her skull to normal shape.
“My biggest concern is Abbie’s head not healing right… and her being stuck with no plate,” Abbie’s mom, Vickie Kopf, explained.
Unfortunately, Dr. Gregory Wiggins, the surgeon in charge of the operation, was unable to set a date to reinsert the plate.
“We need to have that area healed up before doing anything about putting a flap back in,” said Wiggins, referring to the incision where he’d inserted the plate previously.
“I don’t think it looks particularly bad,” Wiggins told Abbie and her parents. “But it still has that scab, that chronic, non-healing area. Until that’s completely clean, we can’t put a piece of plastic in because it’s going to get infected.”
“I just want to be normal,” said a tearful, disappointed Abbie as she hugged her mom.
“She can’t do anything,” her mother said. “She can’t play. She can’t ride a bike. She can’t swim.”
It’s been a long summer and Abbie has spent most of it wearing a helmet to protect the exposed portion of her brain. Doctors had to remove part of her skull when a bullet pierced her brain the night of Feb. 20.
That night, Abbie was sitting in the parking lot of a Texas Township Cracker Barrel restaurant with four women when Jason Dalton, a part-time Uber driver, allegedly shot them at random. The shots killed all four women, including Barbara Hawthorne, a Kopf family friend known to Abbie as Grandma Barb.
“Abbie and I talk about her all the time,” Vickie Kopf said through tears.
“You haven’t said anything,” Dr. Wiggins said to Abbie at the checkup.
“She’s been very depressed lately,” explained Vickie.
“That’s okay,” Wiggins responded. “I wouldn’t call that depressed. I’d call that normal.”
It is uncharted territory. How does a 14-year-old recover, physically and emotionally, after experiencing the kind of trauma Abbie has?
“One day at a time,” her mother said. “One foot in front of the other.”
Abbie can’t return to Harper Creek Middle School in Battle Creek until she’s recovered from surgery to re-insert the plastic plate. It’s not clear yet when she’ll be able to have that operation.
Abbie was in the seventh grade last year and underwent neurological testing Monday afternoon to determine what she’s retained academically.
The family is grateful for West Michigan’s generosity, which has been enormously helpful as Gene and Vickie Kopf focus on caring for Abbie and her 6-year-old sister, Juliana.
Before the shooting, Gene Kopf had been in the process of earning a physics degree at Western Michigan University after losing his I.T. job when the company he worked for was sold. He took time off from school when the shooting happened, but plans to return this fall.