First came $100. Then $50. Then $15. Then another $100.
Tiffany Nemec watched as the donations poured into her GoFundMe page. And the North Fort Myers woman couldn’t believe it.
“I was crying,” says Nemec, 34. “It’s overwhelming.”
A week after a May 13 article about the shooting survivor in The News-Press and Naples Daily News, Nemec’s GoFundMe page has far surpassed its goal of $3,000. It's reached almost $6,500 and counting.
And Southwest Florida just kept on giving. Another $10,000 in cash, checks and credit-card donations has flooded into her dentist’s office, Gulf Coast Smiles, as well.
The money will be used to give back Nemec her smile. Nemec lost about half her teeth in 2008 when ex-boyfriend Richard Lawrence — a man with a long history of domestic violence — tracked her down to her new apartment and shot her twice with a shotgun. Then he killed himself in front of her.
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Since then, most of Nemec’s remaining teeth have slowly broken and fallen out, and she only has two whole teeth left in her mouth.
The damage has made it painful for Nemec to eat normally, she says, and it’s also changed how she interacts with the world.
“I talk in a way that people can’t see that my teeth are broken,” Nemec said in the May 13 article. “I don’t smile anymore. You’d have to see what my smile looked like before. I had a big, toothy smile, and now it’s — you know.
"It’s embarrassing. … Your teeth and your eyes are the first things that people see when they meet you.”
A Cape dentist is doing the surgery for free
Now Cape Coral dentist Mauricio Martinez has agreed to give Nemec the surgery she needs. He’ll remove what’s left of her teeth — mostly broken-off tooth roots left below the gumline — and replace them with brand-new dental implants.
It’s typically a $45,000-$60,000 procedure, he says. But he’s donating his services, and the companies that make the implants and the surgical guide needed to place those implants are donating those, too.
All Nemec needed to do was raise $3,000 for the anesthesiologist — a goal she met in just two days on GoFundMe.
“She’s been trying to get help and nobody’s been either able or willing,” Martinez said in the May 13 article. “... And if we have the ability to help her and better her life, than why not do that for her?”
Nemec wasn’t expecting people to donate so much, though. She would've been happy with $1,000, she says.
Now she’s not sure what to do with all that extra money — about $16,500 so far.
She might spend some of it on repairing her broken-down North Fort Myers house, including mold in the kitchen cabinets and two bathrooms that often flood the surrounding rooms. Or she might save it for future dental work, including regular cleanings needed to maintain her new teeth.
“I obviously cannot expect Dr. Martinez to give me free dental care for the rest of my life,” she says. “So that money will also go toward paying for those visits.”
A date hasn’t been scheduled for the surgery, but Martinez thinks it could happen within the next few weeks.
Nemec says she looks forward to being able to smile again, and also being able to eat her favorite food. Her North Fort Myers yard is packed with fruit trees, but she hasn’t been able to eat any of it.
“Fruit is my favorite, favorite thing to eat,” she says. “At one point, that’s all I ate.”
Soon, she’ll be able to eat mangoes, bananas, star fruit and cherries right off the tree again — roughly six months after the surgery, once her mouth has completely healed. “I’m excited for it!” she says.
Nemec’s boyfriend, Kevin Jack Reisler, is equally excited. He's never seen Nemec’s smile.
Like Nemec, he was overwhelmed by the response to that GoFundMe page.
“I can’t believe this is happening like this,” says Reisler, 33. “It’s a blessing.”
Helping other domestic abuse survivors
Besides raising money, Nemec hopes the media exposure draws more attention to domestic violence and the reform she says needs to happen with how courts and police handle abuse cases.
Her ex-boyfriend had a restraining order, she says, but that didn’t save her from getting shot twice — once in the abdomen and once in the face. “A piece of paper is just a piece of paper. It doesn’t stop anyone from hurting you.”
Nemec says she often helps other women who are being abused, and she dreams of one day starting her own nonprofit. Most of those women reach out to her on Facebook, where she can be found under the name Tiffany Noel.
Nemec says she’ll drop everything to help women come up with an escape plan or be there when they're trying to move out. “Most abusers don’t want witnesses. So I’m there."
She also hopes to fight some of the misconceptions about domestic violence.
“The No. 1 thing I hear from people is, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’” she says. “Well, I did leave. And then I got shot. And I left many times before that. It’s very hard to leave when you have children. Because these people control you.
"You have no money. ... By the time you try to leave, you’re usually isolated from your family. You have nowhere to go and you don’t have the means to get there. It’s very, very hard to break away.”
It was also hard finding someone willing to fix her teeth for her.
Nemec had been trying for years to find a dentist willing to do the work at little to no cost. She lives on just $700 a month in Social Security and disability payments, she says, plus the meager amount she makes at her part-time job.
As a single mom raising a 15-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, Nemec simply can’t afford to pay for the surgery on her own, she says. Her dental insurance won’t cover it.
Martinez got involved after he and his wife saw a TV news report last year about Nemec’s situation. And they decided right then to help her.
“My wife just turns to me,” the dentist said. “And she says, ‘You’ve gotta do something for this lady.’”
Nemec says she's grateful for that help. And she can't wait to look in the mirror and see her own smile again.
“I’m excited,” she says. “This is 14 years of praying and begging and crying.”
To donate more to Nemec’s GoFundMe, visit tinyurl.com/2c9kayn5.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Shooting survivor needed $3,000 for new teeth. SWFL donated $16,500.