Mom of Woman Set on Fire by Fiancé Describes Heroic 2-Year Fight: 'She Defied All The Odds'
"The doctors told us this would be the hardest journey of our lives," says Bonnie Bowes, Judy Malinowski's mother. "That was an understatement."
When she first arrived at an Ohio hospital two summers ago, doctors thought Judy Malinowski had two hours tops to live. The 33-year-old mother-of-two had sustained third- and fourth-degree burns over 90 percent of her body when her former fiancé, Michael Slager, doused her with gasoline and lit her on fire.
But Malinowski survived for two years, staving off death with all the energy she could muster. Her battle ended Tuesday, when she died from her severe injuries.
“Nothing in this journey was ever — as the doctors say — ‘textbook,’ because they had nothing to go on … there was no baseline,” a tearful Bonnie Bowes, Malinowski’s mother, tells PEOPLE. “The doctors told us this would be the hardest journey of our lives. That was an understatement.”
Malinowski was set on fire behind a service station in Gahanna, Ohio, on August 2, 2015. She underwent 59 surgeries following the horrific attack.
“The doctors say she defied all the odds,” Bowes explains. “They said the fact that she lived as long as she did with all that pain is a medical miracle. The miracle is that God gave me two more years with her.”
Michael Slager, Malinowski’s ex, initially told police the incident was just a “horrible accident” and that he actually loved Malinowski. But witnesses contradicted Slager’s account, claiming the couple were seen arguing moments before Malinowski was set on fire.
One witness who called 911 noted that Slager, 41, used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Earlier this year, Slager was sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted of aggravated arson, possession of criminal tools and assault. He had pleaded no contest to all three criminal counts just before his sentencing.
Bowes tells PEOPLE that losing her daughter has been extremely difficult, but says she has been trying to stay strong for her two granddaughters.
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“We will get through this,” says Bowes. “She never made it home, and that was her goal. Instead, she made it to a better place. It is amazing she was able to fight for so long.”
Bowes tells PEOPLE she spent the last 696 days by her daughter’s bedside, and marveled at her inspiring strength.
“She just fought and fought,” Bowes says. “I don’t know how she did it. I think it was God’s will; he gave her the strength to keeping fighting.”
State Senate Passes ‘Judy’s Law’
The day after Malinowski’s passing, the Ohio Senate adopted “Judy’s Law,” which recommends longer prison sentences for offenses that disfigure victims. Bowes says that the law’s passage has provided some “sun and happiness” at an otherwise dark time.
“She just wanted her story out there … she wanted to help one other person — just one other victim — and now, she will,” Bowes explains. “She showed unbelievable strength over the last two years. I really don’t know how she did it.”
After being hospitalized, progress was rare for Malinowski as she tried to recover from an attack that should have killed her.
“There was one time she was able to walk 100 feet and she was able to get in and out of a wheelchair,” Bowes tells PEOPLE. “She was just in excruciating pain.”
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says that he is mulling fresh homicide charges against Slager, in light of Judy’s death. But Bowes says she has not heard one way or another if new charges will be filed.
Several months ago, though, Judy managed to testify against her attacker via video, thanks to a speaking valve that had been placed over her trachea. The footage could be used against Slager if he is tried for Judy’s murder.
“She had to back off her pain medications so she was able to do that,” Bowes says. “It was important to her that she stand up to him in whatever way she could. She said in the video that ‘No human being should hurt like this — not even the devil should feel this kind of pain.'”
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched for Judy’s two daughters.