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Top area saber fencer takes a bullet and is struggling to get home from Georgia.

PHOTO: JAMIE WILLEMSE - PDX Fencing members Jamie Willemse (left) who was shot in Atlanta by a stray bullet, and her friend and teammate Cheryl Maslen. They are pictued at a fencing tournament in Philadelphia in July 2021. Willemse remains hospitalized in critical condition in Atlanta.

A Portland fencer almost died after being shot following medaling in saber tournament recently.

Jamie Willemse was critically wounded on Saturday, Aug. 28 in Atlanta, Georgia. She was in a Lyft car share vehicle when it was caught in the crossfire of a street gun battle. Willemse was hit in the stomach and remains in hospitalized in Atlanta. Because her lung collapsed, she cannot fly home but must travel by land.

Interior decorator Willems and club teammate Cheryl Maslen were returning to their hotel after a dinner to celebrate Jamie's 3rd place win in women's saber, over 50 age group, at the US Fencing Veterans National Championships.("Veterans" refers to fencers over 40.)

Maslen told the Portland Tribune that as they drove through the streets of Atlanta, they saw police lights a few blocks away but were not concerned.

"The we heard three rapid gunfire shots close by, and Jamie slumped into my lap screaming she'd been hit."

Maslen is a geneticist and heart specialist who recently retired as a professor at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. She's a PhD but not a medical doctor, so she did what she'd seen on TV: She held Willemse and talked to her, telling her "Stay awake, stay with me, talk to me. The paramedic said you're doing exactly what's right, keep doing it," said Maslen.

The police arrived, then the ambulance that took them to the hospital.

"It was such a blur. It seemed fast, but I have no idea how long, I was so focused on her."

Maslen thinks the bullet entered though the trunk and hit Willemse in the lower back. Willemse suffered a ruptured spleen, holes in the stomach and diaphragm, a broken rib and collapsed lung.

Maslen speaks regularly with friend and teammate but is not sure when Willemse can come home. The lung damage means she can't fly yet.

Both women are with the renowned PDX Fencing club in Beaverton. Maslen took up fencing in her 40s and credited it with bringing her back to physical fitness, but she says Willemse's journey was extraordinary.

"She started less than five years ago and has risen to top of nation rankings, to third place. A lot of veteran fencers have been doing it since high school, so they have 30, 40, 50 years under their belts." Maslen expects her friend to recover.

Friends have started a GoFundMe campaign to over Willemse's medical and travel expenses. "She has insurance but it's not like anyone ever covers 100%," said Maslen.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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