Woman injured in violent attack was turning life around

By Thia James
June 13, 2014 - 2:41pm Updated: June 13, 2014 - 3:52pm

A woman who was violently assaulted in Prince Albert earlier this month was seeking help for her problems, according to her aunt.

Marlene Bird, 47, is recovering from extensive injuries she sustained in an attack on June 1. She is now in a burn unit at Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital. On Thursday, she had a second leg amputation, and she has already undergone a number of surgeries.

Bird was a residential school survivor, and her aunt, Lorna Thiessen, said “horrible stuff” happened to her. She would not comment on what happened – it’s for Bird to tell.

At the time of the assault, Thiessen said her niece was “transient.” But she did buy a trailer home with the residential school settlement money she received. She couldn’t move the trailer from B.C., where she bought it.

There were also financial hardships.

“She gave a lot of money, like large chunks of money, to people that she thought would pay her back, but obviously, they didn’t,” Thiessen said. But those weren’t the only hardships she was going through, according to her aunt.

“Her friends were people who were in the same boat she’s in,” she said.

She was seeking help for her problems.

“She would go to this little gospel outreach in downtown Prince Albert … She would go there … for prayer and ask people to pray for her,” she said. “She would go into detox, sign [herself] into detox and rehab and [was] actively looking to get set free from all the stuff that she went through.”

No one knows where Bird was headed when she was attacked earlier this month. Investigators also do not have the assailant or assailants in custody. Police have appealed to the public for its help, asking for anyone with video surveillance filmed in the area of the 1200-block of First Avenue West between midnight and 10 a.m. on June 1 to turn over the footage.

Bird is in stable condition and Thiessen said Bird developed an infection in her blood and, despite this, is breathing “pretty good,” but remains on life support. She said doctors are thinking of removing the life support in hopes she can continue breathing on her own.

“She’s got a lot more skin grafting. Lots more, he [the doctor] said,” Thiessen said. “The other skin grafting, she’s starting to heal.”

Bird has third-degree burns at the bottom of her back, Thiessen said. But she also has serious facial injuries.

The first surgeon told Thiessen that her niece was cut from her forehead down to her nose, across her top upper lip and down her chin.

“So that part of her face was off, right,” she said. “It was cut off.”

A surgeon at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon -- where Bird was transferred to after she was taken to hospital in Prince Albert – reattached it.

Bird is able to move one of her eyes, nod and move her hands. Doctors will be taking a look at her other eye later on, Thiessen said. The surgeon told her it is intact, and doctors will find out if she has any vision in that eye, but are unable to tell right now.

Her family has been to Edmonton to visit her in the hospital. When Thiessen told her that she was there praying for her and that she is safe in the hospital, Bird nodded.

The visits have had a significant impact on the family members. “I think everybody that’s gone in to see her has had nightmares so far,” Thiessen said.

She said they’ve been going through grief, anger and shock. There’s the shock of Bird’s double amputation, then the shock of not recognizing her because of the facial injuries, Thiessen said.

“We didn’t recognize her at all,” she said.

Bird’s daughters, who live in Prince Albert, are being supported by the Prince Albert Police Service’s victim services unit. Thiessen said Bird’s daughters have heard rumours that their mother died.

Family members want people who may have information to come forward, she added.

Donna Brooks with the Prince Albert YWCA, which operates Our House, said people in the community are disgusted by what happened.

"They are horrified and they are outraged. It is such a brutal, senseless attack," Brooks said.  Both the YWCA and the Conexus Credit Union will be accepting donations for Bird.

"If you had to go to Edmonton to be with a family member for five or six weeks, those expenses are phenomenal. You have hotels, you have meals, you have parking at the hospital," Brooks said, adding those expenses go way over and above what social services can provide.

A march held in Prince Albert last Friday raised close to $700 for Bird.

Thiessen herself will be reaching out to the public, in an effort to gather more information. On Friday morning, she was driving with her 77-year-old sister, Bird’s mother, from Saskatoon to Prince Albert.

“I’m going to Prince Albert, and I’m going to hit the streets,” she said. “I know how to find people.”

She said she thinks everyone should take part in the investigation at some point, giving information.

“One of my things that I like is I like to ask questions, so I kind of know the streets, and I know people, and I kind of know who she hung around with. So, I will go have coffee with everybody”she said. “Of course, these are a lot of people I know, right. A lot of them are relatives, a lot of them are, you know, people I know from the past.”

-With files from News Talk’s Chris Carr

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On Twitter: @thiajames

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