It was meant to be a fun gap year in the US for 21-year-old Amy Matthews, but her dream turned into a nightmare when she was shot in the face during a New Orleans gunfight.
Amy Matthews, a political science and economics graduate from Perth, was walking down the neon-lit Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of the fabled port city with her best friend on Sunday night when they heard gunshots.
Fatal New Orleans shooting
Police are pursuing a suspect in a Bourbon Street shooting that left one dead and nine injured in the US on Sunday.
New Orleans police said two young gunmen began firing shots “to settle a dispute” at 2.45am, injuring at least 10 innocent bystanders, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In the ensuing chaos, Ms Matthews said a bullet blasted through her right cheek and exited through her top lip, causing massive injuries to her mouth.
"It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places,” Ms Matthews told The West Australian from her hospital bed at the Interim LSU Hospital. “Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.”
She said two US marines protected her for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived.
“One of the marines took his shirt off and used it for my mouth,” she said, with her mother Amanda by her side. “They were making jokes and telling me how I was handling it better than most of their marine friends would have. They definitely helped.”
New Orleans police reported out of the 10 victims of the “heinous” crime, six were tourists. Five were Americans, and only one, Ms Matthews, was from overseas.
She received 30 stitches in her tongue and had a metal support attached to the roof of her mouth.
“I can replace my teeth and my mouth will heal but if it had have been a few centimetres towards my brain or my jugular, who knows?”
The West Australian said Ms Matthews has received a visit from the New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu.
It also reports Ms Matthews examined US gun laws for her thesis at the University of Western Australia.
“Because of last year and all the little kids who were shot, I thought something would definitely be done but it just shows you how embedded the whole gun culture is in the US,” she said, before adding that she would still visit the US in the future.
Dave Minsky, a freelance journalist was on the bar-packed street when the gunmen opened fire. When he heard the shots, he ran outside to see one of the gunmen being chased by police.
“There was a person lying in the street,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t see any gunshots, any blood, so I think she just fainted.” Then he witnessed a more serious-looking injury. “I saw a pool of blood and followed the trail back to a person," he said. "It was a girl who got shot in the face.”