By Matt McCue
On June 7, 2013, Debra Fine experienced first-hand how one single person can alter the entire outcome of an event. That day, she dropped her children off at summer camp and drove to a lunch meeting. To bypass the heavy Los Angeles traffic, she turned onto a side street in Santa Monica hoping to find a short cut.
Instead, she encountered a gunman in the middle of a mass shooting.
He was pointing a semi-automatic rifle at close range at two unarmed women. Fine instinctively hit the accelerator and drove between the man and the two women. The bullets intended for the women hit Fine. “I was shot five times,” Fine wrote in a 2013 Fox News op-ed.
“There was no reason for me to have survived except that I was in motion, in the car, and he was walking.” Fine was rushed to the UCLA Trauma Center where doctors were able to save her.
“That morning, my life changed forever,” Fine recalls in her writings. Despite undergoing three surgeries to treat her wounds, Fine emerged from the trauma with a great sense of purpose. “I learned that I am not a victim,” she wrote on LeanIn.org in 2013. “I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a leader in my community. I am strong, even if I never thought of myself as tough.”
The experience led Fine to establish the Fineline Foundation in 2013. The nonprofit organization assists victims of trauma and violence by providing emotional and financial support during their recovery. The Fineline Foundation has also created a forum where people can share their stories and finds tools to help them recuperate. “We believe that by putting victims together with resources to support them, they can start on the road to recovery, and someday, help others,” Fine writes on the Fineline Foundation website.
Her ongoing effort to turn tragedy into triumph is part of her larger work resume.
Fine is the CEO of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation Los Angeles. The Foundation provides students at inner-city schools with academic and cultural enrichment, counseling services and mentors. Before pursuing non-profit endeavors, Fine has held executive positions at Disney and EMedia Venture Capital. She currently serves on the board of The Maple Counseling Center, an organization that offers low cost mental health care to those in need in Los Angeles.
In return for the encouragement offered by her community during recovery, Fine is determined to help change her community for the better. She uses the word “community” to mean more than the people who live in her town. The term encompasses anyone with whom she shares an experience. Sometimes that is best friends or colleagues. Other times, as Fine learned after her life-shaping experience, it is strangers.
“When I came home from the hospital, shrapnel all over my arms and chest, facing at least two more surgeries, a brave and supportive woman, Sandy Phillips, called,” Fine wrote on Lean In.org. Phillips’s only child was killed in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Phillips and Fine had never met, but, after hearing Fine’s story on CNN, Phillips felt compelled to extend her best wishes. Fine asked Phillips how she managed to get out of bed in the morning, let alone lobby for more thorough rules on gun use. “She said, “That is what my daughter would have wanted,”” recalled Fine. “I hope to share the strength she shared with me.”
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