Chatting with Mario Perez, you’d never guess what he’s been through. He’s cheerful and positive – what you might call a “glass half full” person. He’s grateful for what he has in this life and looking toward the future.
But Mario’s been through a lot this summer. He went to Orlando for what was supposed to be a short, casual visit for a friend’s housewarming, and instead found himself one of the casualties of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead and 50 more injured.
At around 2am, after last call, Mario remembers hearing a series of “pops” that he immediately recognized as gunshots. He was one of the first people hit. His survival instinct kicked in, and, after a few harrowing moments crouched on the ground, he escaped through the club entrance. Two of Mario’s friends who were with him that night, Mercedes Flores and Amanda Alvear, didn’t make it out alive. Another friend of Mario’s, Brian Lopez, was also injured, though it would be days before he and Mario would be reunited and learn that the other was okay.
Mario’s injuries required hospitalization and eventually a surgery, though they were not life-threatening. He feels lucky. In the days that followed, he picked himself up and began to rebuild his life, not even crying since the day it happened. He looks to the future.
In the short-term, however, there were practicalities to address. His health required canceling some much-anticipated travel plans. Mario and Brian had planned to travel to New York City for Gay Pride, but this was not to be.
“I had booked my flight online but a few days after the shooting, realized because of my injuries and the fact that I was traumatized and somewhat scared to put myself in the environment of Gay Pride – the crowds and all – meant that I had to try and get a refund.”
He wasn’t sure getting a refund would be easy or even possible, but he reached out to CheapAir.com’s Travel Advisors via email. That same day, he heard back from a CheapAir travel advisor who, according to Mario, “was just very apologetic, showed concern and promised to work on getting me a refund.”
Behind the scenes, CheapAir worked with two airlines to get an exception made in his exceptional circumstance, with the aim to help Mario, in a very small way, ease his stress. Eventually the airlines agreed to refund the trip Mario could no longer take due to his injuries, and CheapAir contacted Mario to let him know he would get the full refund on his trip.
Mario explained that, to his surprise, the CheapAir Travel Advisor “even went so far as to offer me a free ticket to New York. He said we’re going to get you to New York when you are ready to make that trip.” He added “I was speechless. CheapAir didn’t have to pay for my trip.”
After spending much of the summer recuperating and resting (Mario’s injuries did require surgery and a hefty hospital emergency bill), some friends convinced Mario to take that postponed trip to the Big Apple for Labor Day.
He contacted CheapAir, and as promised, we are sending him to New York City.
Mario’s long path to healing continues. Though he’s been diagnosed with PTSD and has some problems with loud noises and sleeping, Mario sees this rescheduled trip as a bit of a silver lining.
“Mentally, I’m okay and I’m a very strong individual. When I start to have feelings of suffocation I get myself out of it by taking the dog for a walk and slowly getting back to things that make me feel better like working out at the gym and spending time with my friends.”
Even as Mario continues to struggle with night terrors and memories from that night, he’s optimistic and upbeat. He tells us that this is his way of coping, but that an MTV “True Life” documentary about the tragedy, which he watched just last night, finally made him break down. Friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help offset the costs of his ongoing medical care, and he’s got the New York trip on the horizon. He’s moving toward a day when he will feel whole again.