Sabrina Greenlee, mother to NFL star DeAndre Hopkins, recently celebrated 20 years since the acid attack that left her permanently blind. Last week at The Root Institute, she shared the heart-wrenching story. However, after all the pain she endured from the incident, she said she’d do it all again for the sake of saving lives and making a difference for women who have shared her experience as a domestic violence survivor.
Greenlee was in a month-long coma after her ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend threw a lye/bleach substance on her face and body. After coming out of her coma, she had a remarkable moment where she thought, “I can see.”
“I barely can move anything but I know that I’m in a lot of pain. Mentally, it hadn’t connected with my brain that I was blind. So I tell the story that the TV was on and I was literally sitting there in my mind watching TV. I could see everything,” said Greenlee. All the while, she was without sight.
Greenlee said one doctor came and told her family he’d decided to do a procedure to sew her eyes closed. Greenlee’s father objected and insisted they get a second opinion. That opinion came from a younger doctor who was guided by faith.
“I remember him saying do you believe in God, and I’m sitting there and I’m bandaged up I’m feeling just bad. Like life is not good right now. I said yes and he says well we’re gonna do some tests we’re gonna do a lot of tests and if I can help you I will but we’re going to become best friends”
This doctor was able to help Greenlee regain some of her sight with the help of prosthetic corneas. However, the surgeries, over 30 procedures, were causing so much stress to her eyes that her retinas began to detach.
“It definitely changed the way I looked at life because you’re able to have a little bit of sight, able to get out and see the games and then all of a sudden everything is dim again,” she said. But Greenlee adds that she doesn’t have any regrets knowing she did what she could to save her sight.
Greenlee’s transition to living back at home was a struggle, not only for her but for her kids. This part of the recovery took a toll on Greenlee’s mental health. She said severe depression caused her to stay confined in her room for more than 3 years, battling the thoughts of whether her attackers would be held accountable and guilt-ridden over her inability to care for her children.
Until one day, she found herself ready to give up.
“I decided that I was going to end it. I had really contemplated this for a while. Where we live was four houses from the highway, so I figured that if I could get out of the house, I could touch each mailbox and if I get to that final mailbox, I would hear a car coming and I would throw myself in the road” said Greenlee. As she approached the second mailbox, she was shocked to realize that her son, DeAndre, was following her. He reached out, put his hand on her shoulder and guided her back home. The two didn’t talk about what happened for years.
“He had an inkling of what I was about to do. I didn’t even know he was behind me. I thank God he stopped me that day because it definitely gave me another chance at life. God gave me another chance at life,” Greenlee said.
Physical recovery was only a part of Greenlee’s healing journey. Emotionally, she had to overcome the internal battle of forgiving the ones responsible for her injuries. She was able to forgive through two ways: prayer and empathy.
“I began to call [the attacker’s] name out which is really tough. It didn’t happen overnight. I began to pray for her and I’m not talking about, ‘Well I just hope that she’s okay,’ I began radical prayer. As I began to pray for her, it ushered me into my breakthrough,” Greenlee said. “I began to see her as myself and understand that this woman had to have gone through so many things. We were both manipulated, both lied to.”
On the other hand, her children had to come to forgive her for what they went through as a result of her healing process. Greenlee recognized that and allowed them the space to share their hurt so they could work together to move forward as a family.
“I sat each one of my children down and I said, ‘I need you to hold me accountable for all these things that I’ve done and not only do I need to say forgive me but I need to tell you what I need you to forgive me for,’” said Greenlee.
At four years old, her youngest daughter Shanterria stood at the doorway crying for her not to leave right before the incident. When she saw her mother again, she was covered in gauze and bandages. Greenlee said Shanterria was scared to come to her until two weeks later when the family gathered with ketchup smeared on their face to all resemble Greenlee and make her feel more comfortable.
Recently, Shanterria told Greenlee that she still harbored anger against her mother’s attackers 20 years later, remembering what they did to her. Yet, Greenlee told her daughter something profound in response to the strong feelings her Shanterria held.
“I said, ‘Shanterria, I need you to understand that I’m okay. What if God allows things to happen to some people in order to get the attention of other people? What if I am one of God’s heroes and it had to happen everything that I went through all the trouble all the pain all the surgeries to get me to this point? As your mother I know for a fact that I am saving lives. I know that I am making a difference in this world, but what if I had to be blind in order for people to really hear me?’” said Greenlee.
“I wouldn’t change a thing and I would do it all over again because who I am now - the person that I know inspires and went through so much - today, I say it had to happen and why not me?”
Greenlee has taken her experience and created a non-profit organization to help women who have been through the same. Fresh Spirit Wellness provides support for victims of domestic abuse. The need for their services increased by 200% during the pandemic, per ABC 13 News. She founded S.M.O.O.O.T.H. Inc, a non-profit aimed toward educating and empowering women through mentorship and skills training.
Everything she’s done to take power back over her life, she has made tangible so that other women can take back their power, too.