Leonel Melendez, a 38-year-old father, was shot in the head at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub on June 12 during a massacre that killed 49 people. Since then, his family has sat vigil, by his hospital bedside hoping for the best, his brother tells PEOPLE.
“He’s still in the ICU but he’s showing a lot of progress,” David Melendez says. “It’s still a waiting game. We just have to take it day-by-day.”
Leonel, an employee at Gucci in Orlando, was shot in the back of the head and on his thigh. When he arrived at the hospital he immediately had surgery on his thigh because of the near-fatal amount of blood he had lost.
“They had to revive him twice,” says David.
His friend and colleague, Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, who was with him that night, was killed.
Leonel’s family flew to Orlando from their home in the New Orleans area after the shooting. For 26 hours, they did not know where he was or if he was dead or alive.
“We didn’t find out until about 10:30 on Monday morning that he was actually the one guy who was unidentified,” says David, a master sergeant in the military. “They had listed him as a John Doe at the hospital. He left his ID in the car so they didn’t know who he was.”
For the first week after the shooting he was just “lying in bed, completely in a medically induced coma and couldn’t open his eyes,” says David.
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But since then, David says, Leonel has made “tremendous progress.” Although he’s still on a lot of pain medication, he’s now out of a coma and the swelling in his brain has gone down.
“He’s opening his eyes and now is actually looking at us, not just through us,” says David. “That’s a big plus. It’s beyond a miracle he’s even alive.”
But Leonel, an “amazing father” of 6-year-old Bella, still faces an uncertain future.
“We don’t know what will happen to him,” he says. “Doctors say we’re looking at least another three to six months in the hospital.”
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David says Leonel, his brother and best friend, is one of the “most genuinely nice guys out there.”
Their mother, who has also been by Leonel’s side since they arrived in Orlando, doesn’t plan on going back to New Orleans until she can bring Leonel with her.
“We’re finally now trying to get better ourselves because it’s just been an absolute nightmare for every single one of us,” David says.
He recently set up a benefit account at Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company where people can go online or call to donate, with proceeds going toward Leonel’s medical expenses.
On Sunday, the family will also have a fundraiser in New Orleans to help with medical expenses.
David’s wife, Ashley Freeman Melendez, 28, says that Leonel is always “the life of the party.”
“He’s loved by a lot of people,” she says. “There have been a lot of prayers for him and it definitely seems to be working for him.”