In September 2009, 4-year-old Lydia Gernert was a passenger in her maternal grandmother's automobile when it collided head-on with a pickup truck on a highway in Tennessee. Her grandmother was killed and Lydia suffered serious injuries - a broken rib, collapsed lung, lacerated liver, two broken arms and severe head trauma.
Lydia's father, Alvaro Gernert, remembers seeing a disturbing photo of the wreck in the newspaper before arriving at the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. His battered little girl was in a coma with cords and tubes sustaining her life.
"All I could do was get on my knees and give it over to God. I didn't know what else to do," he said. "It's hard to believe that was two and a half years ago."
PHOTO BY MIKE MASELLA
Lydia Gernert examines a flyer her father is passing out to obtain donations for Easter Seals.
Now 7 and a resident of Tiffin, Lydia has made a remarkable recovery. She is about to serve her third year as an honorary ambassador for Easter Seals of Northern Ohio. The agency is preparing for its annual "Walk With Me" fundraiser at 10 a.m. June 23. The event is a two-mile walk at the Toledo Zoo. Last week, Easter Seals Development Specialist, Patti Lee, made a trip to Tiffin from the Fremont Easter Seals office to meet with the Gernerts.
"We're thrilled to have her as part of the event. We take local people that have received services from Easter Seals and we honor them and ... celebrate what they've accomplished and how Easter Seals has played a part in that," Lee said.
Lydia had to spend her fifth birthday in the hospital. After two months of inpatient rehabilitation at Frazier Rehab Center in Louisville, Ky., her family wanted to bring her back to Ohio to continue treatment; however, she could not be released without a special car seat to keep her stable and safe during the drive. Alvaro said he had taken time off work when Lydia was injured and had no extra money available.
Alvaro's mother, Irma Gernert, is employed at the Department of Job and Family Services and knew about Easter Seals' assistance for adults and children with disabilities. She called Lee, who also works as car seat technician, to see if the seat they needed was available. It was, and Irma made arrangements to pick it up for Lydia's homecoming.
"It was a very specific, special needs seat for a child with disabilities," Lee said. "Later, Lydia needed a pediatric wheelchair, so Easter Seals was able to help with that, as well."
Locally, Lydia received therapy at Optima Rehabilitation to regain motor skills and occupational skills. For the 2010 "Walk With Me," Lydia had to be an ambassador in absentia. Last year she was able to participate by walking part of the time and completing the rest of the event in a wheelchair. Irma also needed a wheelchair for the 2011 walk because she had undergone a knee replacement. Both expect to walk the entire distance this year.
The Gernerts recently moved to Tiffin from Bloomville. Lydia had been a student in the Buckeye Central school system. Besides the walk, Lydia's summer activities are to include playing softball, going to the park and watching movies. In the fall, she will attend Tiffin City Schools. Her father calls her "a miracle."
"She has a teacher's aide and she does go to special needs classes because she's still about a year behind on development. But where she came from, it's amazing. She's literally learned everything all over again from when she was 4 years old," Alvaro said.
The website www.noh.easterseals.com has more information about "Walk With Me." Children younger than 12 can enjoy the zoo and lunch for a $5 donation. Registration is at 9 a.m. for $35, which includes a T-shirt. A post-event party is planned for 11 a.m. in Walbridge Park, Toledo. All proceeds are donated to The Easter Seal Society to help support the Easter Seals' Speech Therapy, Homecare, Equipment Loan and Campership Programs. Money raised from the walk stays in the area.
Anyone who would like to walk with the Gernert Family or to sponsor Lydia may call (888) 710-3020, or they can make contributions to Lydia's team through an account at PNC Bank in Tiffin. Alvaro said the walk also serves to make people aware of what Easter Seals provides. Lee said some families struggle for lack of insurance. Others may have a catastrophic illness that drains their resources, even with medical coverage.
"We're all just one moment away from a disability, either from the aging process, or an accident, or illness," Lee said.
The Gernerts and Lee met at CVS Pharmacy in Tiffin with store manager Doug Greek. The company is a premier corporate sponsor of Easter Seals. For about 10 years, CVS employees have been volunteering for Easter Seals events, such as a summer "Camp Can" for disabled children. The local camp is July 9-12 and 16-19 at Bellevue Community Center.
"It's been a great partnership. They raise money for our programs and services, so we're certainly grateful," Lee said.