DERBY, Kan. (KSNW) – A Derby woman has beaten the odds not once, not twice, but three times.
Julie Dombo, 65, is a motivator, an inspiration to nearly every person she encounters.
“I try to live each day with no regrets,” said Dombo.
Dombo’s motto on life never veered off course. It only strengthened after August 12, 2015.
The Day Dombo’s Life Changed Forever
“I was a race walker, and I had just driven over to Derby because it was hot, and they are in the shade,” she explained.
Dombo, 60, at the time, racewalked four miles before driving to the local AT&T store.
“It was 9:30. I knew the store was opening up. I couldn’t figure out how to manage my pictures. I just had a question on it,” she said.
The newly retired teacher and school counselor went into the store, however, she never got to ask her question.
“I went right up to the counter and what I didn’t realize, he was in the store talking with another clerk in the back. He was getting ready to rob it,” Dombo said. “He circled around me and said, waving his gun and said, ‘everybody to the back room.'”
Dombo remembers the moment vividly.
“I immediately thought he’s going to take the three of us back in the back room and rape us and murder us,” she said.
With only seconds to react, Dombo said she refused the man’s orders.
“I just said, ‘No!’ and he immediately stepped back because he was too close to me, and I saw he was going to shoot me point-blank,” Dombo explained.
Dombo said the two clerks ran out the back door leaving her and the attacker.
“I turned sideways because I knew he was going to shoot me. I was trying to avoid the bullets,” she said.
Dombo was hit twice.
“You think you die right away. It felt like red-hot pokers going into me. I looked at him and said, ‘You shot me,'” she said.
Dombo fell to the ground.
“I thought I was going to bleed to death, blood coming out all over,” she said. “I balled up, held on to that side and just started thinking of John and Amy and just started crying.”
Two workers from nearby stores eventually came to Dombo’s rescue before paramedics arrived and rushed her to the hospital.
“They put me on the operating table, and John got over me and I said, ‘don’t let me die and he said don’t worry you’re not going to,'” she said.
The Recovery Process
Dombo was in a coma for a week. After she woke up, she learned her fight was far from over. About two weeks later, she lost her hands and feet.
“We watched them go from red to purple to black,” she said. “They looked just like mummy hands, just like mummies.”
Bubbly, optimistic Dombo said she hit rock bottom. She said she wanted to give up. Then, her family and husband, John, intervened.
“John took my limbs and said, ‘I don’t care about these. I care about what’s in here. I care about you and your heart,'” Dombo explained. “I realized if it doesn’t bother him, why is it going to bother me?”
Dombo spent 114 days in the hospital and several weeks in a rehab facility. She had to relearn how to breathe on her own, how to walk how to eat.
“I had to learn how to swallow because of 77 days with no food,” she said.
Dombo has prosthetic legs and was gifted robotic arms. She also uses an assortment of inventions to wash dishes, write and use her cell phone.
She has also taught herself how to drive. The freedom allows her to go to the gym at least four times a week.
While she is self-sufficient, she does rely on her husband, John.
“He had to learn how to give me a shower. He had to learn how to shave my armpits and legs. He had to learn how to blow dry my hair and curl it. He had to learn how to do my makeup,” Dombo explained.
“To be honest with you, Julie is the same as she always has been, she is just missing a couple of parts,” Dombo’s husband John laughed. “We try to have as normal of a life as before. It’s just a little bit different.”
Dombo admits recovery has not been easy. She said it came down to choosing to stay positive.
“I consciously made myself every day get up, live every day because every day is a gift and that guy wasn’t going to take my joy away,” Dombo said.
Fight Against Breast Cancer
In December 2017, two years after becoming a quad amputee, Dombo was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I just had my mammogram that summer nothing wrong,” she said.
Her daughter, Amy, noticed a lump under her arm while showering her.
“We went in and sure enough it was breast cancer. It was clear up here where the mammogram didn’t pick it up, so my daughter actually saved my life,” Dombo said.
Dombo started chemotherapy treatment in February 2018. Several months later, she walked Amy down the aisle in Cancun.
“I was bawling. We were all bawling. It was very emotional to think that I almost wasn’t there, that I shouldn’t be there and there I was,” she said.
Dombo beat cancer in 2019 and is now cancer-free.
Life After the Shooting
Dombo has been vocal since the 2015 shooting. She has made it her mission to share her survival story with people across the world.
“I will go to Costco or to Walgreens, total strangers come up to me and say, ‘I have been watching your story and you are such an inspiration,” Dombo said.
Dombo hopes she can inspire people to live each day like it’s their last.
“I know that I can help others, that my time here on earth is not done,” she said.
She has also become an advocate for fellow amputees. She worked tirelessly to make sure insurance providers give the proper help to amputees.
“Basically, insurance companies cover all internal prosthetics, they don’t cover any external,” explained John Dombo. “We are trying to tell them it’s the same. Hey, insurance companies treat external prosthetics the same as you do internal prosthetics. A hip replacement, knee replacement, treat these the same way. I need my hands and feet.”
In February, Dombo received news from Blue Cross Blue Shields agreeing to cover her prosthetic devices.
Beginning on January 1, 2021, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas will begin covering myoelectric and microprocessor prosthetic devices for fully-insured major medical group health insurance plans on each group’s plan anniversary.
Dombo said she hopes she can make a lasting impact on each person she meets and each person who learns of her story.
“Don’t have regrets in life because you don’t know how long you have on earth,” Dombo said.