Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
It’s not exactly the sentiment you’d expect to hear from a law enforcement officer who was shot while on duty, underwent more than a dozen surgeries to save a leg she initially feared would be amputated, and who still hobbles around on crutches.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” says Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy Robin Hopkins, 45, on a recent weekday on the patio of a local cafe.
A year ago Oct. 26, Hopkins was among the officers trying to stop Christopher Chase, who went on a shooting spree in the North Valley in a stolen police car and shot four officers with an AK-47 before being killed in a hail of police bullets.
An angry 36-year-old man with “Cop Killer” tattooed across his knuckles, Chase did not live up to his creed that day, but he drastically changed the life of Hopkins in an instant. The most seriously wounded of the officers, Hopkins was hit when one of Chase’s high-powered rounds went through the driver’s door of her patrol car.
Her femur was shattered and a major artery in her leg severed. She lost a lot of blood and nearly died.
A fiery redhead with a radiant smile and an easy laugh, Hopkins says, “I’m aware of how lucky I am – it wasn’t my spine or the traumatic brain injury like some of our soldiers have to deal with.”
She’s lucky, she says, because the shooting occurred in front of a Bernalillo County fire and rescue station, where firefighters and paramedics quickly attended to her and got her to a hospital.
She’s lucky, she says, because of the support she gets from the Sheriff’s Office and the Air Force National Guard Reserve, both of which keep her on their “active” rosters and give her light duty while she recovers.
She’s lucky, she says, to have married a man like Tom Jones, a former nuclear engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who became a stay-at-home dad to raise their son, Bronson, 2½, and is now her primary caregiver.
And she’s lucky to have the support from the Albuquerque community, expressed by people she meets and in cards and letters, all of which remind Hopkins “why I will go in harm’s way again,” she says.
Honoring first responders
On Sunday, the village of Los Ranchos, part of Hopkins’ regular patrol area, will host an inaugural 5k run/walk to honor all first responders and raise money for the Ten-82 Fund, which assists injured first responders and their families pay medical expenses not covered by insurance or their respective departments. The police radio code “10-82” means “officer needs help.”
Hopkins, who will not be able to participate in the run/walk, will attend the event, as will the three Albuquerque police officers who received less severe leg injuries during the shooting spree – Eric Martinez, Matt Hannum and Daniel Morales.
“Robin has been an important part of the Los Ranchos community,” said Los Ranchos Mayor Larry Abraham. “We always had the sense that she pursued her work as a deputy with a passion and a commitment to the residents of Los Ranchos.”
But he said the village also wanted to recognize all law enforcement and emergency medical personnel who responded that day. They “deserve our admiration, respect, and appreciation.”
Changed for life
Even though she considers herself lucky, Hopkins knows her recovery will take years and there are some things she will never be able to do.
She pulls out her cellphone and shows X-ray images of the rods and screws required to rebuild her left leg during multiple operations. The most recent surgery earlier this month was to remove a device used to lengthen the bone in her leg, which was 1.5 inches shorter after the shooting. “I was lopsided and had to wear a lift in my shoe, but then there were hip and knee issues.”
Now, she says, “when I stand barefoot, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Despite her upbeat and resilient exterior, the X-ray images are also a stark reminder of “how I feel on the inside, which is vulnerable,” Hopkins says.
“Just to walk across the street – sure, I’m mindful of cars, but I can’t afford to fall. People don’t realize how fragile I am. It’s even hard for me to wrap my brain around that, because I went from being a strong protector as a sheriff’s deputy, a member of the Air National Guard, even as a mom. You never think it is going to be taken from you.”
A former distance runner who could finish a marathon in just over four hours, Hopkins is resigned to the reality that “my running days are over.” Her left leg at the hip joint has some forward and lateral movement, “but I can’t rotate it and I will never be able to sit on the floor cross-legged.” Her left knee can only bend a little, though therapy should help restore range of motion, she says.
Nerve damage in her left leg causes pain and makes it difficult to sleep through the night. “I had been a side and belly sleeper, but now I have to sleep on my back with my leg up on a wedge,” she says. She will also have to wear an ankle-to-thigh compression stocking for the rest of her life to aid circulation in her leg.
‘Beginning of my true recovery’
In the meantime, Hopkins goes to physical therapy three times a week and does daily home therapy that includes some yoga poses, stretching and leg massaging.
Bone is growing around the rods and screws in her leg and filling in the gap where doctors surgically broke the femur so her leg could be lengthened. She can now stand with crutches two to three hours a day and looks forward to eventually walking without them.
Hopkins recently took up Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Transcendental Meditation as ways to help her mental recovery, as well as help her sleep better at night and relax more during the day. She hopes to bring these techniques to her colleagues at the BCSO.
“This is really the beginning of my true recovery,” she says, noting that the major surgeries are now behind her. “I celebrate how far I’ve come, and a year from now, I’m going to be stronger than ever.”
Seeing the big picture, Hopkins puts the last year of her life in perspective: “I’m wonderful,” she says. “I’m alive.”