It seemed like the entire Irish-American community of Chicago turned out yesterday in support of Natasha McShane, the Co Armagh student who was savagely attacked in the city seven weeks ago.
Billed as Natasha’s Day, benefit gigs involving dozens of bands, auctions and raffles were held in tandem on the north and south sides of the city.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to help the 23-year-old’s family, including parents Liam and Sheila, as they continue their long, often harrowing, forced stay away from their home in Silverbridge.
Liam and Sheila and their |eldest son Conor took time away from Natasha’s bedside at a rehabilitation centre to attend a Mass held at the Irish American Heritage Centre, on the northside.
They then headed to the southside where a benefit day was held at Gaelic Park.
News on her condition is cautiously hopeful seven weeks after she was viciously struck across the head with a baseball bat as she walked with her friend, Stacey Jurich, after a night out in the city’s Wicker Park district.
Heirberto Viramontes (31), and mother-of-two Marcy Cruz (25), have been charged with attempted murder and other serious offences connected to the April 23 attack. They are currently in jail.
After more than two weeks in a drug-induced coma, Natasha began showing signs of life and two weeks ago spoke her first words. She is now walking with assistance, has started to use her arms and is talking. Last week, she enjoyed her first sips of tea.
The family hopes Natasha could be brought back home as early as next month.
“It has been a nightmare,” said Sheila. “But there have been good times, when you see her doing something, progressing. There's hope for those few moments.”
Natasha has been receiving a steady stream of visitors. Impromptu music sessions have occurred at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
This support has helped in her progress, said Liam, adding that the family has been awed by the generosity of people in Chicago.
Close to $250,000 had been raised before yesterday’s events, from raffle ticket sales and other benefits. “It's overwhelming, unbelievable. I am just gobsmacked,” said Sheila.
But Natasha has to go through at least one more operation, to put back a flap of the brain that had to be removed to relieve pressure in the days after the attack.
Once she has recovered from this, the family hope to bring her back to Musgrave Park in Belfast, recognised as having one of the best brain injury units in Ireland.