Olivia BarczynskiFor many in their early 20s, an evening out with friends is something to look forward to. It’s an opportunity to socialize, enjoy a few drinks, and maybe grab a late-night snack. This is a weekly routine for millions of young adults around the country.

For Olivia Barczynski, a similar night out in the summer of 2022 changed her life forever.

On the evening of July 15, 2022, Olivia and one of her friends stopped at the Stop N’ GO off of 7th and Oak Street in downtown Louisville, KY. They planned on getting a few snacks after a long night and were about to make their way home. Upon parking their car, Olivia and her friend were approached by a man from another car, who tried selling the girls some marijuana. After informing the man that they weren’t interested, he reached into their car, took Olivia’s moneybag, and returned to his vehicle where another man was waiting.

Olivia and her friend got out and began walking toward the other car, intent on retrieving their stolen property. Olivia recalls, “It probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but you can’t necessarily say what you would or should do in that moment.” Upon reaching the vehicle with the two men inside, Olivia asked, “Hey, you can keep the money, don’t worry about it, but can you at least give me my phone? It has my location services on, you can be tracked. It’ll do you no good, can you please give it back to me.”Olivia Barczynski

Olivia continued, “The last words I remember were, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ Then I saw the barrel of the gun, the flash, and the gun go off. I saw myself falling, and it went black after that. I heard my best friend screaming, telling me to ‘stay awake, stay awake,’ holding my face where I got shot.”

In an instant, Olivia was shot in the face at point-blank range. She collapsed backward, hitting her head on the way down. The assailants drove off into the night.

Olivia described watching herself fall as if she was observing the entire event from a third-person perspective, as though she had stepped out of her own body and was a bystander watching the event taking place.

Her friend immediately tried helping, screaming for someone to call for emergency services. Eventually, a stranger arrived to help, taking off a sweater and applying it to Olivia’s wound before calling 911. Olivia was taken to UofL Health but remembers nothing after being shot.

In addition to intense PTSD, paranoia, and night terrors, the event left Olivia with significant neurological damage. “I fractured a vertebra in the top of my spine, I had to have my carotid artery repaired…I [needed a tracheotomy], my jaw was wired shut, I have a paralyzed vocal cord, half my tongue is paralyzed, I don’t have the same range of motion in my jaw.”Olivia Barczynski

The road to recovery was extremely difficult, but Olivia’s parents were by her side 24/7. Olivia was in a medically induced coma for about a month. When she woke up, she was unable to speak and needed to write everything down to be able to communicate. “When I first came out of the coma, they told me they were taking the staples out of my head. I hadn’t seen myself to this point. I used to have long, blonde hair. I woke up bald-headed. I was so confused, and really numb for the first couple weeks until I started talking to the psychiatrist. Once I took in what I went through, I was angry. I questioned why this happened to me.”

The UofL Health team was tremendous in her recovery. “I had great nurses, the most amazing psychiatrists, the most amazing social workers. With the people around me, I had an awesome support system.”

Over the course of her rehabilitation, she experienced a myriad of feelings. “When I switched my mentality from being a victim to being a survivor, everything started falling into place. I was getting up and walking…I started talking a little bit. After I got out of the hospital, I just kept that positive mindset.”

As is the case for many trauma survivors, Olivia’s positive mindset also had its fair share of moments of darkness. “I did have setbacks. You’re going to have those moments where you’re down, so upset and so sad. But I use this as a platform for myself. I started making TikToks, I started vlogging to show my recovery. When I did that, I received an enormous amount of support from everyone around me.”

Olivia is currently, “...in the phase of acceptance. My goal is to help inspire others going through something similar…Be that person that someone else can look up to and realize they can make it to the other side if they put the work in and keep a positive mindset.”

“He took a lot away from me, the guy who did this. But what he’s given me is worth so much more than what he took. I feel like I’ve evolved into a very strong woman. I don’t feel like a young adult anymore. It’s made me grateful for every day, and everyday things you take for granted. Eating, drinking, being able to shower, being able to go up a flight of stairs, being able to talk.”

Olivia’s assailant is currently in prison, but her feelings toward him are different than one might expect. “This guy is only 18, 19 years old. You have so much to live for, I don’t understand why you would throw it away for something so small…I really hope he finds the healing he needs to find. I can’t imagine what he must have gone through as a person to be able to try to take somebody’s life, a random person, he must be fighting something internally."Olivia Barczynski

“If it does go to trial, I will tell him I forgive him...I pray for him, I pray for his family, because I can’t imagine. I’m not fighting hate with hate. What’s it going to produce? More hate.”

Olivia currently works with her family at their flooring store in Oldham County. Her 4-month-old chocolate lab and pit mix, Astro, accompanies her to work and, “...is probably better at selling floors than me.” She continues to heal day by day, and her videos inspire thousands of other trauma and gunshot survivors around the country.

Olivia Barczynski.


Trauma Survivor.