Blood Brother

by Walter Pierce

More than two months after a brutal home invasion and shooting that nearly killed him, Yousef Balbeisi is thankful for his life, his wife and for the community that rallied to save him.

More than two months after a brutal home invasion and shooting that nearly killed him, Yousef Balbeisi is thankful for his life, his wife and for the community that rallied to save him.

Friday, Sept. 7, 2012
Written by Walter Pier

Yousef Balbeisi plays dead. He would die otherwise. With a ragged exit wound the size of a half dollar from a .32 caliber bullet leaking like a sieve near his naval, he is slipping into unconsciousness. But the men, a pair of anonymous cliché bad guys who had smashed through his front door on Mimosa Drive looking for quick cash, are hanging around. They have ransacked the house, gotten what they could. Yet they linger.

Moments earlier one of the men put a gun to Yousef's head. "Let me just put a bullet in his head and get it over with," Yousef recalls him saying. But the other one, the one who had shot him in the lower back in the blur of a struggle Yousef is pained to recall, mutters, "No, he's already bleeding to death. He's dying."

They would wait for the only witness to their crime to die. Then they would leave. Dead witnesses don't talk.

So Yousef slumps over.

It works. The bad guys walk away, off into the night with about $35, three DVDs and a BB gun that belonged to Yousef's 9-year-old son. He waits nearly a minute before staggering next door, then to the next house and to the next. Neighbors had heard the gunshot and want nothing to do with death and dying on a dark, muggy Monday morning. To Yousef, released from Our Lady of Lourdes on Aug. 25, nearly two months after the shooting (he granted an interview to Ind Monthly on Aug. 17), the episode lasted nearly a half hour. It probably only lasted minutes.

"The last I remember I was talking to the ambulance people, the nurse, saying, I don't think I'm going to make it. Please, if you get in touch with my family, ask them to take care of my son,'" Yousef recalls in a charming Arabic accent. "And I did my prayers and that was the last I remember. Two weeks later I wake up in New Orleans."

The July 2 home invasion and shooting of 31-year-old Yousef Balbeisi, youngest sibling of 13, six brothers of whom live in Lafayette and own a thriving restaurant business, barely registered in the news. It was a heinous, callous crime. But the public was still captivated by the Mickey Shunick disappearance. Word was leaking that an arrest in the Shunick case was imminent. It would come three days later when cops apprehended a monster named Brandon Scott Lavergne, who is already breaking rocks at Angola where he will live out his days.

A police spokesman said Sept. 4 that investigators handling the Balbeisi shooting are "currently awaiting evidence being processed at the crime lab."
Yousef lost 90 percent of his blood by the time doctors got him stabilized. He passed so close to death his family was told on several occasions to make funeral arrangements.

But in the days he spent in Lafayette, before doctors here decided he needed more acute, aggressive care in New Orleans, Lafayette rallied for Yousef Balbeisi. Dozens turned out for blood drives, filling the refrigerators at Lourdes.

"The two days he was in Lafayette afterwards, they were so happy here in the hospital," says Yousef's wife, Hannah Smith Balbeisi, who has remained at his side throughout the ordeal. "We told them, It's going to fill up.' Non-stop we kept them busy, all day." And for days after. The surplus donated on Yousef's behalf has helped pay down his astronomical medical bills.

Yousef Balbeisi, center, is flanked by brother Nidal Balbeisi and
wife Hannah Smith Balbeisi.

Yousef remembers none of this. None of the community response. None of the earnest bedside prayers or muted discussions among surgeons who were certain he wouldn't pull through. He woke up two weeks later in a New Orleans hospital room to begin a physically and mentally excruciating recovery. Nidal Balbeisi, the de facto patriarch of the Balbeisi clan in Lafayette, the eldest brother who emigrated to the U.S. from Jordan in 1994 with $97 in his pocket and since arriving in Lafayette in 2001 has established the Zeus and Agave restaurant brands, was at Yousef's bedside when he emerged from the coma.

"Back in 2005 when I had my [car] accident, I woke up after six hours and Nidal was in my face, and when I woke up this time Nidal was right there," Yousef recounts. "He raised me. I'm the baby."

The bullet entered Yousef's lower back just above the right buttock and exited his abdomen. Initially doctors couldn't do an MRI due to bullet fragments still in his body. The bullet shattered his pelvis and tore through his colon and intestine, barely missing a major artery. He's about 25 pounds lighter now than he was when he fell asleep on the sofa July 2, and he has three or four more surgeries remaining over the next couple of years. But for such a bad thing, so many things went right.

"Somehow I want to appreciate these people - the guys who shot me - because me and my wife, we were separated, and after the accident we got back together," Yousef says, seated beside a wide window overlooking a rainy Lourdes parking lot, Hannah nearby. "This is one of the good things that happened. The second is it really opened my eyes that people here really care about us and really love us. You know that people love you, but I did not know that people really cared about me that much."

Yousef was kept alive in the harrowing days after the shooting by blood donated by friends, family and by strangers - 14 pints in just the first 12 hours after the shooting. The average person has about 10 pints of blood circulating in the body. All of the blood in Yousef Balbeisi once belonged to someone else.

"There is not enough words to cover the feeling," he adds, his voice wavering with emotion. "Now I can call Lafayette as my hometown."

"He has Lafayette's blood," Nidal adds wryly. "He's a true Cajun now."