“THE PAIN DOESN’T
KICK IN IMMEDIATELY”
Using the Heal Fund
to Heal Physically
The broader community may not have been fully prepared for the Unite the Right rally, but Star Peterson was. “I was a street medic that day,” she said, “so I had all my supplies. Things to stop bleeding. Bandages for cuts to clean things up. Gatorade—you know, August in Charlottesville—in case people get dehydrated. That sort of thing. Just a well-stocked medic kit.”
After the worst of the violence came speeding down 4th Street, however, Peterson was the one who needed a medic.
“I’m really good in emergencies,” she said, “and the pain doesn’t kick in immediately. I remember thinking, ‘All right, the first step is to get out of the street in case there’s more.’ I remember trying to use my right leg to push myself out of the street and it just didn’t work. I wasn’t feeling pain. It just didn’t work.”
A stranger helped Peterson onto the sidewalk and stabilized her head, preventing paralysis. The whole time she was barking orders, trying to get an ambulance for others. “Just kind of being my usual bossy self,” she said.
Peterson can’t remember how she heard about the Heal Charlottesville Fund. “I was on a lot of painkillers and in severe shock,” she said. But after calling a number someone gave her, she learned that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been donated as part of Dave Matthews Band’s Concert for Charlottesville and other philanthropic efforts, and that the needs of survivors were the top priority. Because the Community Foundation is generally prohibited from giving money directly to individuals, the funds went to the City of Charlottesville. In particular, they went to Gretchen Ellis, a city program coordinator who serves as a liaison with those who had been injured.
“Gretchen actually drove all the way out to Scottsville—this was several weeks after the car attack—and met with me and said, ‘Give us a list. We can pay for your caregiver, your utilities,’” Peterson said. “It was a huge relief because I didn’t have any savings going into it. I was working fifty-hour weeks, but like most people I didn’t have any kind of backup plan.”
She had excellent health insurance, but it wasn’t enough—not after six surgeries, more than thirty days in the hospital, and physical therapy.
Gretchen Ellis is amazing, Peterson said. “She’s been there to listen to us.” With Heal Fund money, Ellis hired Matthew Christensen as a systems navigator. He helped survivors navigate services and seek pain medication. He helped them understand how to make their way in a world that would not always include Heal Fund money, including how to file for disability benefits.
“It’s a very daunting process,” Peterson said, “especially when you have limited mental function because of pain meds. I was very, very grateful to have him sit down with me and walk me through the process.”