Colorado Shooting Miracle: Woman Shot in Face to Recover Fully

PHOTO: Petra AndersonPlayCourtesy Chloe Anderson
WATCH Aurora, Colo., Shooter 'Killed the Best Man on Earth'

Petra Anderson had important plans for her summer. After graduating from University of the Pacific in June, Anderson, 22, returned home to Aurora, Colo., determined to sit by her mother's side, holding her hand as she is treated for cancer.

Kim Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. It went into remission in 2011, only to return 18 months later, when it spread to other parts of her body.

Now it is Kim Anderson who sits by Petra's side in a Denver hospital, holding the hand of the daughter she nearly lost.

Petra Anderson was in the Century 16 movie theater with friends on Thursday night when a gunman opened fire at the midnight screening of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises. " Petra's arm was riddled by three pieces of buckshot from a shotgun blast. Another piece hit her face, passing through her nose and into her brain, stopping just short of the back of her head.

"The whole thing was just surreal. It was like a dream," Petra's sister, Chloe Anderson, told ABC News. "They did tell us she'd been shot in the face, and I didn't know what that would look like. There was blood on her, and her face was swollen, but it was still her, and that was a relief. "

Doctors initially feared the worst, telling Petra Anderson's family that if she lived, she could be paralyzed or have speech problems due to severe brain damage.

But after multiple surgeries on Friday, doctors told her family they expected Anderson to make a full recovery. Remarkably, while removing the shot from her brain and repairing the damage, doctors discovered a fluid-filled "void" in her brain that she may have had since birth. Although these voids are not uncommon, the position of this particular cavity may have saved Petra's life.

According to Chloe Anderson, the surgeon who operated on Petra said this "channel" may have provided a kind of pathway for the piece of shot, guiding it through her brain and avoiding critical areas.

"If [the shot] had deviated, it could have hit major, major things," Chloe said. "It could have hit a blood vessel or her brain stem. He didn't know how it's possible for the bullet to travel so straight."

Petra may still face additional surgeries, including optional facial reconstruction where the shot hit her nose. Her family is grateful and relieved that she will ultimately pull through, but there is now a new battle they must fight: Petra's medical bills, which they estimate may surpass $100,000.

It is a stark new reality many of the victims of the Colorado massacre now face -- how to pay potentially staggering medical bills now and cover any ongoing psychological treatment down the road.

According to Nancy Lewis, Executive Director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), there is a victim compensation fund set up by the 18th Judicial District of Colorado. Victims can apply for help with medical expenses, psychological support and lost wages after any insurance has reached its maximum coverage.

It is not yet known how many of the victims have health insurance and what their financial, medical and psychological needs will be. In the aftermath of the Columbine shootings, COVA formed a committee to conduct what they call "life studies" on the injured. After a year, donations were distributed proportionately based on the results. Lewis said a similar model could be applied here.

Petra Anderson is covered by her mother's insurance, but her family said they were daunted by the road ahead.

Donations to Help Aurora Victim Surpass $100,000

"The medical bills are very large, and my family is working very hard to be financially responsible," Chloe Anderson said. "You don't skimp on costs to care for a loved one. We are taking it one step at a time and with a lot of gratitude for people who are helping her."

Kim Anderson's three-year battle with breast cancer, including multiple rounds of chemotherapy, was covered by insurance from her job as an educational consultant. But because of complications and the cancer being terminal, she has enrolled in an experimental treatment that could cost up to $150,000, none of which is covered by her insurance.

Realizing the potential hardship the Anderson family faces, friends of Petra and Chloe Anderson have mobilized a fundraising campaign using Twitter and Facebook to draw donations. Chloe recorded a video to help raise awareness for her mother and sister. As this story went online, the fund had more than $100,000 in donations.

The tag line for the campaign is "Ready to Believe." Andrew Roblyer, one of the organizers, said the line came from "The Dark Knight," when Batman tells the Joker, "This city just showed you that it's full of people ready to believe in good."

"This story started being written by one person and is being finished by a community who have rallied behind Petra," Roblyer told ABC News. "They don't have to accept the beginning. They can rewrite the ending."