Melissa Dohme was stabbed 32 times by an ex-boyfriend. He always said he would kill her if she tried to leave. Melissa refused to give up and has a message for her attacker. “Here I am. I’m beautiful and you didn’t win.”
Melissa Dohme, 20, was a young woman with big plans and a bright future. She was studying to be a nurse, volunteering at a local hospital and planning a backpacking trip to Europe when a brutal attack changed the course of her life forever.
Jan. 24, 2012
In the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2012, Melissa reluctantly left the safety of her home in a quiet neighborhood in Clearwater, Fla., for an encounter that almost ended her life.
Melissa and Robert
Melissa had recently broken up with her, boyfriend Robert Burton, a few months before. He’d been calling and texting her that night begging to see her one last time for closure.
“It just seemed kind of pathetic and I really just wanted to get it over with so I can go back to sleep. So I reluctantly agreed.”
Melissa says that Robert told her that he just wanted a hug. As he held her tightly in his arms, she heard a click. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was a switchblade knife.
The Crime Scene
Melissa was stabbed 32 times with two different knives and left for dead in the street. Police and rescue personnel responded to a horrific scene.
Melissa’s throat was cut and she could barely speak, but she did manage to say the name of her attacker. No one thought Melissa would survive.
While Melissa was airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., a call went out to law enforcement to be on the lookout for Robert Burton.
Trauma surgeons worked on Melissa for five hours before they could stabilize her. Because of the multiple stab wounds, her blood was leaving her body so quickly and couldn’t get to her brain and vital organs. She flat-lined twice.
Dr. Jeffery Johnson, a former trauma surgeon in Afghanistan, said he hadn’t seen such injuries since the battlefield.
Three hours after the attack, police found Robert Burton. His vehicle was found crashed into a building.
Burton, who had ingested a number of sleeping pills in a suicide attempt, was found slumped over the wheel with the car still running. The right wheel of his truck kept spinning until it ground through the pavement.
After a week in ICU, Melissa awoke to 32 stab wounds, a broken jaw, shattered facial bones, and severed nerves. She also suffered a stroke from blood loss that resulted in partial paralysis.
“Many doctors and therapists told me that I’d probably never walk by myself again. They told me that I might never be able to talk again,” Melissa said, seen here with her mother, Joann Dohme.
Since the attack, Melissa has undergone multiple surgeries, scar revision, dental implants and facial procedures. She has had to relearn how to talk, walk, write, eat and close her eyes.
Melissa in Europe
As the physical wounds began to heal, Melissa’s determination and inner strength helped her to heal emotionally. She learned to walk again and went on the backpacking trip to Europe she had planned before the attack.
"Yes I can"
Time in the hospital meant Melissa had to work hard to catch up with her studies. She not only graduated on time, she was also the commencement speaker.
Melissa told the audience, “When the entire world seems to be against you telling you can’t do it...listen to the voice inside you that whispers, ‘yes I can.’”
Facing Her Attacker
But the hardest step in Melissa’s recovery was yet to come, as she prepared to face her attacker in court.
Facing Her Attacker
At a hearing before the trial, in February 2013, Melissa had to recount and relive the terrifying night in which she almost lost her life. She says that Robert stared straight at her and it felt like his eyes were burning a hole right through her.
A Surprise Plea
At a later hearing, Robert Burton surprised everyone by pleading guilty to attempted first-degree murder.
Choosing to Forgive
Robert Burton was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. During her impact statement, Melissa said, “When you choose to forgive those who hurt you, you forever take away their power and that’s what I’m doing today. Robert, I forgive you for coming to my house and attempting to murder me.”
Thanking her Heroes
Melissa was so grateful to everyone that helped save her life that fateful night that she made it her mission to meet and thank them all personally. Here she is with the team from Clearwater Fire and Rescue.
“I really wanted to meet everybody that I just had to say thank you. I felt so called to just find every person and let them know how much they mean to me,” Melissa said.
Thanking her Heroes
One of the first responders, Cameron Hill, became a more personal hero to Melissa.
Melissa said she never imagined something so wonderful could come out of her horrifying experience.
Cameron and Melissa
After the incident, firefighter/EMT Cameron Hill and Melissa began dating.
“We’ve truly been inseparable ever since,” Melissa said.
A New Love
“I’m crazy in love with Melissa Dohme. Never met anybody like her. I would like to spend the rest of my life with her,” Cameron said.
Melissa credits another domestic violence survivor with helping her come to terms with what happened. Audrey Mabrey’s husband bludgeoned her with a hammer and then set her on fire burning more than 80 percent of her body.
Making a Difference
Audrey and Melissa now work together as advocates.They have teamed up to help other victims of domestic violence at Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay, an organization based in Clearwater, Fla. The nonprofit works to prevent domestic violence and help families in crisis.
Melissa has made a remarkable recovery since the attack that almost ended her life. She believes that she survived to help and inspire other victims of domestic violence to speak up and fight back.
“Audrey and I, we want to really change lives, we want to end domestic violence and end teen dating violence. Together feel like we really are an unstoppable force, you know, we’re ready to change the world,” Melissa said.
A Big Surprise
Three years after paramedic Cameron Hill saved the life of Melissa Dohme, who’d been stabbed 32 times by an ex-boyfriend, he proposed to her at home plate before a Tampa Bay Rays game Monday, May 11, 2015.
She said "Yes" and "I Do"
The newly-engaged Cameron Hill and Melissa Dohme.
They wed in March 2017.