'I've come a long way': A year on, Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane hopeful through pain

'I've come a long way': A year on, Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane hopeful through pain

Danielle Kane and her boyfriend, Jerry Pinksen, were out for a friend's birthday at a busy restaurant in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood on a summer Sunday. It was the evening of July 22, 2018.

Outside 7Numbers, commotion broke out on Danforth Avenue; a frantic woman burst in saying someone had been shot.

Pinksen, a emergency room nurse, and Kane, a nursing student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, immediately got up to help.

They hardly made it out the door when they came face-to-face with Faisal Hussain, who fired at least eight bullets in their direction.

One of them tore through Kane's stomach and diaphragm before shattering her T11 vertebra, near the base of her spine.

In that moment, Kane became one of the 13 people injured in the mass shooting that also claimed the lives of 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis.

Hussain, 29, died of a self-inflicted shot to the head after a gunfight with police. Kane, 32, who spent 11 days in a medically induced coma and underwent multiple surgeries, survived.

The National first spoke to Kane last summer, just a month after the shooting, at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where she was immersed in intensive physical therapy.

A year later, this time in the lobby of the downtown apartment building she and Pinksen share, Kane appears effervescent. She spoke to us on what she calls a "good pain day."

Pain the new normal

"It's been a really tough year. I'm really surprised about how long the rehabilitation process is taking, especially regarding the chronic pain that I'm experiencing," Kane told The National's Andrew Chang. 

"It's like an intense pins-and-needles feeling from my waist down. It's quite all encompassing. Like half your body is trapped in concrete."

Kane's pain management regimen includes a variety of medications, including pregabalin (Lyrica) in addition to CBD oil and medical marijuana, which helps her from feeling overwhelmed by constant, nagging pain. 

Kane says the pain, more than the inability to walk, is the most debilitating aspect of her recovery.

"We knew that the disability, the paraplegia ― she will never walk again ― was an issue and we were preparing for that. But this new element of pain, it's been difficult," Pinksen said. 

"The pain management takes up all of her day and there's nothing I can do to take her pain away."

Evan Mitsui/CBC

A year ago, the question of regaining some mobility in her legs remained open. Now she, and Pinksen, have moved beyond that hope.

"Honestly, it's hard for me to see all the other able-bodied young people and just seeing how freely they move through the world. And it just it reminds me of what was taken away from me.… It's hard," Kane said.

"When I have those thoughts, I kind of need to, like, go home and into a private space where I can kind of digest those thoughts, and, I guess, focus on the fact that I'm so lucky to be here still."

Mental health and the shooter

In her first interview with The National in September 2018, Kane expressed sympathy for Hussain. At the time, she avoided using his name. Now she doesn't hesitate.

"Faisal clearly had these issues for a long time and he fell through the cracks," she said. "The investigation showed just how long he had been dealing with mental health issues and clearly he needed help and he didn't get it."

WATCH: Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane on why she feels sorry for gunman

In the days following the shooting, Hussain's family put out a statement detailing their son's long history of mental illness, including depression and psychosis.

For Kane, she says her sense of compassion is rooted in her own battles with depression. 

"I've been in really dark places where I felt like I was on the outside, or that my life wasn't going as I expected and, you know, I felt like maybe it would be better if I wasn't around," she said.

"I understand how someone who is alone would have trouble getting out of that negative spiral. I know it's hard for other people to believe, but we need to bring in people like Faisal and love them. None of us are perfect."

After a nearly yearlong investigation, investigators said they were unable to pinpoint a motive for the shooting spree.

Returning to the scene

The couple doesn't talk much about that night ― Pinksen says it can hinder their recovery and their ability to move forward ― but they have been back to the Danforth since the shooting. 

It happened by accident, and instead of fear or hatred, Kane said she felt stronger being back at the scene.

Kane and Pinksen were dropping friends off at home after stopping at a pub on St. Patrick's Day, when they happened to pass by Bowden Street — where Kane was shot. 

WATCH: Danielle Kane reflects on returning to the Danforth after mass shooting

"Just to see it again, how narrow the street is and how close the shooter was to me, I'm again reminded of how lucky I am to be alive, because I could not have been closer to him," she said.

"It was surprising to me. I thought I might feel afraid. But instead I feel stronger because I've come a long way since the last time I was there. I was bleeding and broken and now I've been put back together and I'm on the path to recovery."

Plans for the future

Kane had planned to return to nursing school in January, but the challenges of her recovery have pushed that goal down the road.

"I expect to be able to get back to some kind of normal adult life. Working, going back to school. But I'm just realizing that the timeframe I need to move on to those steps is going to be a little bit farther away than I want it to be," she said.

"It's hard to know how many days of clarity, of concentration I'll be able to string together. I don't want to go back before I'm ready."

Evan Mitsui/CBC

The pair does have plans to relocate to Oshawa, Ont., into a home they plan to make fully accessible with the help of financial support from donors.

Their new home is also a short walk from the Abilities Centre, where Kane plans to continue her physical rehabilitation, as well as the Ontario Institute of Technology, where Kane one day plans to continue studying to become a nurse.

"I just think about other people around the world who have been victims of violent crime or who've been victims of war, and I think of how lucky we are to live in Canada," she said.

"We have health care. We have insurance. So we're set up nicely to handle this and to overcome it. For that, we're so grateful."