Implant gives Highland Park shooting survivor new lease on life

In January, Liz Roberts Turnipseed did something that would have been impossible 18 months earlier. She and her husband Ian traveled to Jamaica and snorkeled in the Caribbean Sea.

“I never could have imagined I’d be able to do that before the device,” she said.

She’s referring to the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulator doctors surgically implanted in her lower back last November. The operation successfully reduced the chronic pain she has endured since July 4, 2022, when a gunman fired upon spectators gathered for Highland Park’s annual Independence Day parade.

Life-altering tragedy

Turnipseed was one of nearly 50 people injured in that shooting. Seven people were killed.

The 2022 parade was to have been Turnipseed’s 3-year-old daughter Sonia’s first. But the shots that rang out about 10:14 a.m. shattered their plans.

Turnipseed heard the shots and turned to check on Sonia when the force of a bullet threw her to the ground. Then, a second bullet struck her.

She recalled a “sharp, searing, awful pain” and being unable to stand. Her husband covered Sonia with his body while he attempted to pull his wife to safety.

“In a split second we decided he had to get Sonia out of there,” Turnipseed said. “He said, ‘I’ll be back for you’ and he ran off with her to find safety for her.”

“He was a hero that day for our family,” she said.

Ian Turnipseed spotted Suzi Zelinsky crouched behind a metal and concrete bench and asked her to take Sonia. She agreed, told him her name and shielded the girl with her body as Turnipseed raced back to his wife. He found her with Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, who kept pressure on her wounds.

Assuring Liz their daughter was safe, Ian exchanged phone numbers with Zelinsky and arranged for her and her husband, Dean, to take Sonia to their house.

“She (Sonia) remembers they had two nice dogs and she had a glass of water” from an actual glass instead of a sippy cup, Turnipseed recalled.

The “always chill” Sonia was surprisingly resilient. Her mother, less so.

Turnipseed was taken to Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital with gunshot wounds to her leg and pelvis. Surgery was unnecessary, as the bullets missed vital organs, but shrapnel remains in her body and the bullets caused significant nerve and tissue damage. Her wounds took months to heal.

“For the first couple of weeks I was virtually immobile,” said Turnipseed.

Medication helped keep her comfortable during that acute phase of her recovery, which took place at her Highland Park home where a physical therapist taught her how to stand, sit and properly climb stairs.

Turnipseed used a walker for a few months, then switched to a cane.

“The cane became a buddy,” she said. “Anytime I left (the house), I had it with me.”

But ever-present pain limited her activities. She couldn’t stand or walk for extended periods. And she couldn’t play with her daughter at the playground. Instead, she watched her from a park bench.

Turnipseed had to carefully consider every activity, lest it worsen her pain. If I do this, I’ll be OK, she thought to herself. If I try to do that, I won’t.

“Chronic pain is one of the most burdensome problems in health care,” said Northwestern Medicine anesthesiologist and pain management specialist Dr. Jason Ross. He helped Liz Roberts Turnipseed, right, a 2022 Highland Park shooting survivor, manage her pain by implanting a device in her lower back that disrupts pain signals traveling from the spinal cord to the brain.
Joe Lewnard/

But the pain persisted. Her doctors recommended she see Dr. Jason Ross, a Northwestern Medicine anesthesiologist and pain management specialist. They met for the first time in January 2023.

Relief at last

“Chronic pain is one of the most burdensome problems in health care today,” said Ross. “We spend more money on pain management than heart disease and cancer.”

They began with injection therapy, recalled Turnipseed, a less invasive treatment. But relief was fleeting.

That’s when Ross suggested DRG, a version of neuromodulation pain management similar to spinal cord stimulation (a procedure that dates back about 60 years).

By late 2023, Turnipseed agreed to the two-phase procedure which involves implanting an electrical device that, according to the Mayo Clinic, “scrambles pain signals traveling through the spinal cord to the brain.”

“We put electrodes behind the spinal cord, which changes the way pain is modulated,” Ross said of the procedure, which has been available in the U.S. since 2016. “There are four leads inside of her at four locations in her spine.”

Using an iPhone app or iPod, Turnipseed adjusts the stimulation setting of each lead to address pain in a specific area, he said.

Turnipseed underwent the procedure last November. It began with a weeklong trial during which the leads were implanted in the location they are today, Ross said.

“They stuck out of her skin and were connected to an external battery,” he said. After the trial, “we internalized the entire system.”

Relief was instantaneous.

“She was almost in tears in the recovery room,” said Ross. “It was the first time she had relief since it (the shooting) happened.”

Helping a patient resume some normalcy and reduce the persistent pain she experienced following the July 4, 2022 shooting in Highland Park “is one of the greatest achievements of my career to this point,” said Northwestern Memorial Hospital pain management expert Dr. Jason Ross.
Joe Lewnard/

“I’m so happy I was able to do something to help her,” he said. “To give normalcy back to her life is one of the greatest achievements of my career up to this point.”

Six months post-surgery, Turnipseed has more stamina. She walks her dogs and jogs with her daughter. She can cook standing up and wear high heels for short periods of time. On days she overexerts herself, she bounces back faster.

As for resuming activities, “the sky’s the limit,” said Ross. “I’ve had patients in similar situations who are skiing, working out and running.”

Turnipseed says she still takes medication and is not yet “good as new.” But, she says, “I’m miles ahead of where I was on July 5, 2022.”

Turnipseed is sharing her story in part to dispel misconceptions about chronic pain and raise awareness about a condition millions of people endure. Most suffer silently, she said.

She also wants to remind people that for survivors of gun violence, the suffering — physical, emotional and financial — continues long after the TV cameras have gone.

“I’m lucky. I have good health insurance,” she said. “But the cost of ongoing medical treatment for months or years is a lot … It’s a constant reminder of what happened and the trauma we experienced.

“There aren’t robust resources available for the population (survivors),” she said, “and because of gun violence in our country, that population grows every day.”

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