After several canceled surgeries, high fevers and pneumonia, Thomas Villanueva was finally able to start the long road to recovery this week.

In what might be the first of many surgeries, Villanueva's spinal cord was stabilized Wednesday, said his sister, Selina Dubbel.

"The doctors inserted posts and screws to support his spine and prevent further injury," Villanueva's family explained further on their GoFundMe page.

Because of his collapsed lung, Villanueva remains on assisted breathing and is unable to talk, but "he would like to thank everyone for all the love and support and prayers," Dubbel said.

The 28-year-old Villanueva was partially paralyzed in the Feb. 5 gunbattle that killed El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick and injured three other officers. The suspect in the shootout, Manuel Zetina, also was killed.

Despite the surgery, Villanueva's mobility remains in question, Dubbel said. The family is hoping to move him soon to Craig Hospital in Denver to better evaluate his options. The world-renowned hospital specializes in the neuro-rehabilitation and research of patients with spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, the hospital's website says.

Through all of the unknowns, Villanueva's spirits remain "very high," Dubbel said.

"He's willing to do the work to get him back to normal, or at least mobile," she said.

But the family still needs financial assistance to get him there.

Having reached a $20,000 goal on their GoFundMe page, Villanueva's family extended the target to $50,000 following his surgery.

"His paralysis is going to be extremely difficult to cope with, so we're going to see how secure we can make this young man feel about his future!" the page said.

Another way to give is through a fundraiser at Rita's Italian Ice on March 3, when 15 percent of proceeds from the 7866 N. Academy Blvd. store will go toward Villanueva's medical expenses.

The store is holding a similar fundraiser for Flick's family on Feb. 18.

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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Kaitlin is a public safety reporter with a focus on investigations. She is a proud Ohioan, champion for local libraries, volunteer reading tutor and an expert ice cream connoisseur (mint chocolate chip!). She joined the Gazette in 2016.

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