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December 29, 2013

Injured, not angered

Stabbing victim faces long recovery, but spirit has healed

- — An artist by nature, Clark, 57, had worked as a greeter for only nine months when Justin DelFratte, 30, of Sharpsville, allegedly stabbed her with a four-inch pocketknife, severing three arteries, including the one that controls the use of her arm.

“I helped him when he first came in. I knew him. I see him all the time. He seemed OK. Kind of quiet,” she said.

Clark said after DelFratte was seen by a physician he returned to the waiting room, where he made several calls trying to find a ride home. “He seemed upset that no one could pick him up, but he went and sat back by the windows. He wasn’t saying anything,” she said.

She was scheduled from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, and at about 2:30, with the waiting room empty except for DelFratte, Clark said she took a phone call from her husband, Daniel, who said he would come and pick her up shortly. “And all of a sudden I just felt this horrible, sharp pain in my shoulder. Like someone hit me with a rock, and I turned and reached up to feel my shoulder, and there was Justin and all this blood pouring out like a waterfall. The pain was unbearable. He took off and I remember screaming, “Oh my God I’ve been stabbed” and thinking I hope I said it loud enough because I couldn’t do it again,” she said.

Her husband was still on the line, she said, though she had dropped the phone. DelFratte hadn’t said a word, she said.

Her screams brought everyone running, and within minutes doctors and nurses had Clark in surgery, where it took eight hours to stabilize her, she said.

“I just remember lying there, thinking “I can’t leave my kids.” Clark is the mother of a 17-year-old girl, Sarah, and a 13-year-old boy, Nathan.

She credits her co-workers for saving her life. “They were amazing, just absolutely amazing. They were marvelous to me,” she said.

The life-saving surgery over, Clark was transferred to a trauma unit at Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, the next day, where specialists would do what they could to repair the nerve damage. Eight days later, they removed a nerve from her leg and placed it in her neck. “They say nerves can regenerate. I hope so. But it’s very painful, almost constant pain,” she said.

She also had her chest cut open to address cardiac problems caused by a severe blood loss. She has a very long scar from that, she said. “I’m really disfigured now,” she said.

Clark said she had no health issues other than glaucoma prior to the attack. Now, she said, she has been diagnosed with pericarditis, a fluid build up around her heart, high blood pressure, diabetes and briefly suffered breathing problems. “I’m told these things may eventually resolve, that it’s the body’s response to a trauma,” she said.

But what has boosted her spirits, despite the overwhelming medical issues, has been the community support she’s received. “I don’t know how to thank everyone for all the well-wishes and cards. People, total strangers, stopped employees in the street to ask how I was. I got 130 cards from everywhere, from people and places I’ve never been. It’s been absolutely incredible. It has really restored my faith in humanity again,” she said.

“To say thank you, just doesn’t seem enough.”

Just days before she was attacked, Clark had finished painting a mural on the side of Main Street Pizza Works in Hubbard. Now, she said, she can’t even hold a paintbrush.

The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Sharon is hosting a benefit dinner for Clark from noon to 3 p.m. on Jan. 19, where much of her painting inventory will be sold to raise money.

Clark’s husband, a truck driver, is unemployed right now, she said, and she is unable to work. As far as going back to her job as a greeter, she isn’t sure what will happen.

“It’s a possibility I will go back, when I can. I miss the employees there,” she said.

She isn’t angry at DelFratte, she said, but instead she feels sorry for him. “I feel sorry for his family. I feel bad that he is so low in life that he has to resort to this.”

“His life is ruined. Mine will get better,” she said.

 DelFratte’s family said he has a history of drug abuse and mental illness and that his family has never stopped trying to help him to confront his problems and get him the psychiatric treatment he needs.

He “is delusional and has hallucinations” and has received Social Security benefits for mental disability since he was 19 years old, his mother, Christine Simon, of Boardman, said.

DelFratte is being held in Mercer County Jail after being charged with attempted homicide.

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