One of the first visitors Maria Del Carmen Gomez had after her recent cancer operation at Valley Hospital was the surgeon who saved her hands.
Though she was so weak, she was barely able to raise her left arm, she waved at Dr. Carl Williams, the plastic surgeon she calls an angel.
As he sat in his Las Vegas home last week, Williams, 62, recalled how frail she appeared.
"She had been doing so well, but she's lost a lot of weight," he said. "Her left hand is fine now and there were just a couple of things I had to do so the right would be OK, too. I'm worried about her."
Williams was the hand surgeon on call on the March night Gomez was brought to University Medical Center by ambulance, her hands hanging from her wrists largely by soft skin tissue. Gomez, who soon will be on chemotherapy to fight off uterine cancer, nearly lost both her hands as she covered her head in a horrific machete attack outside the convenience store where she worked.
Authorities say Gomez, who also sustained severe head injuries, was ambushed by an ex-boyfriend, Armando Vergara-Martinez. He's in the Clark County Detention Center awaiting an October trial on charges that include attempted murder and domestic violence.
On Wednesday, as she lay in her Valley Hospital bed, her right hand still encased in bandages, the 53-year-old Gomez, talked with Rebeca Ferreira about life and the future, about her healing hands and the caring of Williams.
"He is an angel," she told Ferreira, the head of Safe Faith United, which offers services, education and resources to victims of domestic violence. "He is not just a doctor. He is now my friend.
"Yes, he is such a good man, an angel who won't charge a beaten woman if she has no insurance," Ferreira said, her words rushing out in an English that carries the lilt of the Spanish she grew up with in her native Dominican Republic.
Ferreira and Williams met last March as they visited Gomez at UMC. Williams was checking on his patient and Ferreira was advising Gomez, who had health insurance, on programs that would help pay her rent and car note.
Ferreira also told Williams about other low-income victims of domestic violence, how they often couldn't get medical help beyond emergency services because they were uninsured. She noted how every day she gets 10 new domestic violence clients, how the FBI reports that a woman is beaten every 15 seconds in the United States.
That conversation, Williams recalled, had him hearing the voice of his late mother.
"My mother was a victim of domestic violence herself," he said. "She was telling me to give both medical help and emotional support. I only wish I could heal Maria of her cancer. She's had to go through too much."
On Thursday, Gomez was transferred to Vegas Valley Rehab for further treatment.
The brutality of Gomez's injury left Williams moved. So much so that he told Ferreira that regardless of whether women had insurance, he would donate his services, which could run in the tens of thousands of dollars, to help battered women.
"If you get rid of some of the physical scars, you can also get rid of some emotional scars," he said.
Soon, Ferreira brought him women trying to cope with disfigurements caused by gunshots and stab wounds. Another woman had her lower lip bitten off.
"My office will find ways through social services for hospitals or other facilities to get paid but I am not asking for anything," he said. "This is something I'm doing from the heart."
Williams has long donated his skills to poor countries. Last year he was in the Philippines, correcting unsightly cleft palates of children. What makes donating services more difficult in the United States, he said, is the cost of the facility.
"But we're going to find a way to deal with that," he said. "There are too many women like Maria, who are carrying scars through no fault of their own."
Paul Harasim is the medical reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His column appears Mondays. Harasim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2908.