A year after attack, Susan Rizk finds strength in faith, family and friends
A year ago today, Susan Rizk was fighting for her life.
Now, scarred but not broken, she sees herself as a miracle.
On Oct. 25, 2005, Rizk was preparing to go to work and send her daughter to preschool. The car was warming up.
She remembers the time: 8:15 a.m. It was when her ex-boyfriend, Steve Wasserman, charged into the apartment wielding a sword, stabbing and cutting her within inches of her life.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” the 38-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman said.
And not an hour goes by that she doesn’t think about or is reminded of it. Many know the story, how Rizk was transported to Barton Memorial Hospital so she could receive care before a flight to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where she stayed for two months.
Nearly $1 million in medical bills
Besides a sword’s blade, her body survived eight surgeries with another two on the way. She guesses medical and therapy bills will go past the $1 million mark soon, but Victims of Violent Crimes and MediCal through El Dorado County have covered the costs.
She is training to be a real estate appraiser but has not returned to work as office manager of a real estate appraisal business. Her most recent surgery, three weeks ago, aimed to increase the functionality of her left hand. Therapy sessions are three days a week.
“She just has a great outlook on life,” said hand therapist Jana Mortellaro.
Her daughter, Harmony, 5, witnessed the attack. Rizk has to deal with the nightmares invading her child’s dreams. The two sometimes talk of what happened, said Rizk, who also has a 10-year-old son, Austin.
“My injuries I can work through, but with Harmony’s emotional well-being it’s been a struggle,” Rizk said.
Harmony sways on her opinion of her father, who is in a Tracy prison after pleading no contest in August to burglary and aggravated mayhem with use of a deadly weapon.
“This week to her he’s a big, fat jerk but a day later she can be drawing him a picture,” Rizk said. “She’s going through the same emotional roller coaster as I am.”
Wasserman, who initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was given seven years to life in prison per an agreement. El Dorado County prosecutors said the former construction worker will be in prison the rest of his life.
The 911 call Rizk made the moment she saw Wasserman approach the apartment lasted four minutes and 30 seconds, she said. The phone was left off the hook when the attack began, she said.
“I don’t remember any pain,” Rizk said. “I remember being stabbed.”
Recovery guided by faith
A member of Sierra Community Church, Rizk cites the Lord’s work in helping her recover. And others have, too, according to Sierra Community Church Pastor Rex McQuillen.
As an example, McQuillen said about 20 people a week would attend a 12-step program the church sponsored, and Rizk would help with and sponsor people, to assist people fighting addictions before she was injured. In the past year the attendance has jumped to 35 people a week, McQuillen said.
“It definitely changed a lot of lives and it definitely affected mine so strongly,” he said.
Rizk, a recovering alcoholic, said her goal in the next year is to help more support groups.
Strangers come up to her, saying she is a miracle. Rizk acknowledges it is sometimes awkward but knows she couldn’t have survived without the support of so many.
“I just feel extremely grateful,” she said. “It’s nothing I could do on my own.”
On the one year anniversary today she plans to assist the food line the church holds every Wednesday. She also knows there’s a party that will be held in her honor.
“I get to celebrate with all the less fortunate,” she said, excited. “I consider tomorrow a victory. I consider it a day of celebration and I want everyone to look at their neighbor and smile because you never know what’s going on in that person’s life at that moment.”