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For those wounded in San Bernardino, a painful path to recovery

Four weeks after the San Bernardino terror attack, most of the injured have improved enough to leave the hospital.

But achieving full recovery continues to be a painfully slow process.

Carlos Ortiz's son Kevin is now working on walking and moving his arms after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in the Dec. 2 shooting.

Kevin Ortiz was part of a crowd attending a holiday party for the San Bernardino County public health department when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire, killing 14 people and wounding 22.

Farook, who worked as a health inspector, and Malik, his wife, were "self-radicalized," according to federal investigators. Authorities have deemed the attack an act of terrorism.

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Amid the chaos, 24-year-old Ortiz managed to call his wife and father to tell them he was alive. At first he thought he'd been shot three times, his father said, but doctors found five wounds.

"Five angels were watching over him," protecting him from each injury, he added.

Ortiz said his son is "doing excellent" and spent Christmas with the family, but he still struggles with the physical and emotional toll of the shooting.

"He doesn't even want to see his own wounds," Ortiz said.

Of the two victims still at Loma Linda University Medical Center, the condition of one was changed from "critical" to "fair" on Monday. Officials changed the condition again to "serious" on Tuesday, according to Briana Pastorino, a hospital spokeswoman. (The hospital is prohibited from naming patients due to privacy laws.)

The second patient, who is recovering at Loma Linda's rehabilitation facility, is "likely to be discharged today or tomorrow," Pastorino said.

That patient was identified by family members as Julie Swann-Paez, who suffered a shattered pelvis and two bullet wounds.

In the weeks after the attack, Swann-Paez's spirits have remained high — through excruciating pain and internal bleeding, relatives say.

"My mom's personality is: 'No matter the situation, what's the positive?'" her son, Nick Paez, said. "My mom is the backbone of the family."

Doctors told her and her family that she will spend much of her time in bed for about two months as she works up the strength to stand and walk.

Despite the pain and tragedy, Swann-Paez said she was eager to return to her job with the San Bernardino County health department.

"She loves her job," her son said. "She looks forward to returning to work when she's able to. One of her coworkers came in … and my mom said, 'When do you need me to start answering emails?'"

Paez said his mom was active in a Facebook group for shooting survivors, a club that none of them ever imagined they would belong to. She and a few of her coworkers use it as a space to "deal with it all and talk about it."

Each day comes with more signs that Swann-Paez is recovering and will eventually be able to go back to work.

On a recent Thursday, Swann-Paez persuaded her son to grab her a Frappuccino from Starbucks. Before the shooting, Nick Paez said, his mom would start each day with the sugary drink.

"I can have extra calories, so make it as fatty as possible," she joked from her hospital bed.

He returned with a mocha-flavored Frappuccino with a pile of whipped cream on top — a small victory.

sarah.parvini@latimes.com

Twitter: @sarahparvini

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 30, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Victims' tough road to healing - A month after San Bernardino attacks, the wounded make painful progress." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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