Water Protector Who Almost Lost Arm Returns Home, Faces Lengthy Recovery

By Yessenia Funes Dec 15, 2016

Nearly a month after law enforcement allegedly hit Sophia Wilansky, a #NoDAPL water protector, with a concussion grenade, she is back in her New York home as her severely injured left arm heals.

Wilansky returned home December 10 and posted a health update yesterday (December 14). A photo uploaded to Facebook showed her injuries and stated, “This is what my arm looks like as of Tuesday 12/13/16, 22 days after law enforcement on highway 1806 hit it with a ("LESS-LETHAL") grenade which exploded on contact.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department denies her allegations.

An external fixator, shown in the photo posted, is screwed into Wilansky’s bones to support her arm, according to the post. She lost both arteries as a result of the injury, so doctors had to replace them with a vein from her left leg. “I am about to stop taking blood thinner shots,” she writes on the Facebook post. “But I will have to take aspirin for the rest of my life because a blood clot in the vein-turned-artery would make me lose the arm.”

Wilansky described how doctors took pieces of skin and muscle to perform a skin graft to save her arm. She reports her skin will need at least a year “to look relatively normal.”

Wilansky was one of approximately 300 water protectors who were injured during a confrontation between Dakota Access Pipeline opponents and officers with Morton County Sheriff’s Department on November 20-21. Videos posted to social media show law enforcement spraying demonstrators with water in freezing temperatures, even though the department denies such acts. The sheriff did admit using tear gas and other “less-than-lethal means,” which water protectors reported as rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has asked water protectors to leave the camps given the recent Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to deny a necessary permit, meaning the pipeline’s completion is now halted. However, the legal tensions between law enforcement and the tribe—and its allies—continue: The Water Protector Legal Collective filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Morton County Sheriff’s Department on November 28 for the excessive use of force that led to Wilansky’s hospitalization. The suit seeks an injunction to keep the department from using such weapons again. Just a couple days ago, on December 13, the lawyers also served the sheriff’s department a legal notice urging them to remove a highway barricade that prevents easy access into and out of the reservation.