Janae Wright of Louisville, KY is one of those rare people who can command whatever room she walks into. Within minutes of meeting her, one can’t help but smile at her sense of humor and strong, fun-loving personality. She unconsciously radiates a degree of gravitas behind her fierce smile and bright, vibrant eyes.
For Janae, a normal day starts much the same as it does for millions of mothers across the United States. In her words, “A normal day starts off about 6 AM with me and my son, getting him ready for daycare.” After dropping her son off at daycare, Janae goes to work until late into the day. She is also a dance instructor and spends her free time inventing and choreographing routines for her students (her favorite dance styles include lyrical and contemporary dance). Dance is a powerful medium, one through which Janae feels she can best express herself.
That sense of artistic expression is more than evident in the stances and poses she would strike over the course of her photography session; with defiant hands on her hips, it was immediately clear that this was someone who loves life and the challenges and triumphs it can present.
Janae has faced more challenge and triumph than most will ever experience over the course of a lifetime.
On the frigid evening of February 8th, 2021, Janae was returning to her house on Lillian Avenue in South Louisville. Janae had just gotten off a second shift job that ended after 10 p.m., and had stopped to get some gas for her car in anticipation of the inclement weather expected the following day. After fueling up, Janae parked her car a little after 10:30. Looking through the back alley of her house, she noticed another car with two men parked nearby in an abandoned lot behind the property. At the time, there was construction underway near that lot, and Janae reasoned that the car likely belonged to some workers who may have been setting up for the next day.
Janae was pregnant at the time and exhausted from a long day of work. Eager to get inside and out of the cold Kentucky winter, Janae exited her vehicle and began walking up the porch to her house. As she proceeded towards her house, one of the men got out of the other car and began walking along the fenceline towards her. “Just as I was going to insert my key into the keyhole, I noticed the gentleman walking towards me rather fast.” Janae turned to ask how she could help the man walking towards her. In an instant, there was a gun in her face, and the man demanded she hand over her purse.
“Naturally I just froze, I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it, like what was happening, how did we get here,” Janae remembers asking herself.
In the process of handing over her purse, she tried pleading with the man. “Please don’t do this, just take the money, it’s not worth it, I’m pregnant. Just here, have it, have everything.”
The man fired several rounds into Janae, at which point she collapsed to the ground. After turning to run away, he fired 3 more shots in her direction.
Janae’s adrenaline kicked into overdrive, and she leaped to the right trying to make it to her cousin’s home who had a Ring camera. Her thought was that if she could alert the camera, her cousin could call the police. She collapsed en route to the house, and called out to her neighbors, hoping they would hear her cries for help. Her neighbors heard and immediately ran to her aid. Janae asked her neighbor to call her father, as she thought this was about to be the end of her life.
“At the time, I’m assuming this was the end of my life, these were starting to feel like the last moments. I’m losing strength, I’m feeling blood pour out of my body…In fact, that was the only thing that was keeping me warm that night.”
Upon her arrival at UofL Health, Janae learned she had been shot 6 times.
Doctors began triaging her injuries, unsure if her child had survived the attack. The next morning she learned that a bullet fragment had entered her bladder, narrowly missing her uterus. “It was miraculous that the bullet did not enter my uterus, and that the baby was still alive. They were able to confirm that I was still pregnant.” After surgically removing the bullets from her body, Janae began the road to recovery.
She remembers the disbelief that this was happening to her. “I was terrified for my family. I told the EMT, ‘Please don’t let me die, this will kill my family.’ Only about 3 people were aware of my pregnancy, so for them to find out in this way, in the event of my death, that not only did she die but her baby died, it was really tough.”
Janae began to hyperventillate, watching her entire life flash before her eyes and notes that she was not prepared to die. “If I die the baby dies. I went into this survival…like for me there was almost no panic, I knew exactly what I had to do.”
Despite this, Janae notes that it was a struggle to maintain consciousness, as well as to stay alive. Every breath she took and every time she blinked, she worried she might not open her eyes again. “It was a pull of to stay or to go, and it was really hard to fight ‘The Go’…but I knew that I HAD to stay alive.”
Janae’s road to recovery wasn’t easy, with multiple catheters inside her and temporary paralysis in her left leg due to a shot that hit her femoral nerve and a missing piece of her femur from the shots that hit her. Her outpatient care took place at her grandmother’s house due to the high volume at Frazier Rehabilitation Institute. She needed round-the-clock care to recover, on top of proceeding further and further into her pregnancy. Ultimately, her recovery had to take a back seat as she prepared to become a mother.
Javien Wright was born September 1st, 2021.
Janae’s emotions as she continued to recover. “Now, I feel triumph. I feel as though I’ve overcome, I feel relief. There was so much I was worried about. Javien and I live a really happy, simple life, which makes it even easier to be happy. My son is a really really smart kid, full of energy. That gives me the joy to get through each day, though I struggle every day trying to figure out why this happened. But I don’t let those feelings consume me, I don’t let those feelings outweigh the good feelings that I worked so hard towards getting back.”
Janae would like to remind any survivor going through their own trauma recovery, “...just, preserve. Don’t give up. There is a way out, unfortunately, the only way out is through. But you aren’t alone. Seek advice, seek counseling, don’t suffer by yourself.”
Janae and Javien Wright.
Powerful. Full of energy.