Exeter discovers HOW to help family in need

Exeter’s Helping One Woman chapter hosts dinner for Fernandez family whose daughter was struck by care in late May


EXETER – Exeter prides itself on coming together to help residents during their time of need. And now that recent Exeter High School graduate America Fernandez made leaps and bounds in her recovery after being hit by a car in late May, they are stepping up to the plate one more time.

America made it back home early this month after several weeks in the hospital and rehab. And while America and her family are proud to have her back, not everything is like it was.

America’s mother, Lucy, has taken a leave of absence from her job to take care of her daughter. The level of care she needs is round-the-clock, leaving little time to make ends meet. Fortunately for the Fernandez family Exeter’s chapter of Helping One Woman (HOW) has chosen Lucy as the woman they want to help in October.

HOW prides itself on the motto: one woman with $10 can buy a woman lunch, ten women with $10 can buy a woman groceries, one hundred women with $10 can make a real difference in another woman’s life. On Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. HOW is inviting women to the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building for an $11 dinner and prize drawing. HOW asks that those interested RSVP by Friday Oct. 4 by visiting mysosevent.com or contacting Carole Dillon at 559-731-7304.

America and Lucy’s tragedy is part of an otherwise uplifting story. Lucy moved herself, husband Juan and three children from Ensenada, Mexico to Exeter just over three years ago, looking for a better life. In her short time in town Lucy serves as the leaders of the women’s ministry at the Nazarene Church and others have said that she will never pass up an opportunity to help someone in need.

On May 29, America was walking back to school from lunch when she and her boyfriend, Ricardo Isais, were struck while crossing Highway 65 at Sequoia Avenue. The driver was reportedly distracted just for a moment before hitting the young couple in the crosswalk. Ricardo was treated and released later that evening. America wasn’t so lucky. The impact broke both of her legs, pelvis and eight ribs as well as cause a brain hematoma, internal bleeding around her lungs, and ruptured her spleen.

America was in a coma for seven weeks after the crash and underwent more than seven surgeries to repair bones, relieve pressure, and stop internal bleeding.

Margie Reed, a guidance associate at Exeter Union High School (EUHS) who coached America in track, said she saw the 17-year-old two weeks ago rehabbing at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, Calif. She said she is talking in almost complete sentences and can walk on her own for short periods of time.

“They are calling her a miracle,” Reed said. “The doctors all thought she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life.”

Reed said while she was there, the family told her that doctors could release America as early as Sept. 5 when she could go home for the first time since the day of the crash. But Reed said America still has a long way to go to make a full recovery. In order to help her family pay for medical and living expenses, a trio of local moms are holding a fund-raiser just in time to welcome her home.

Sisters Tricia Kirksey and Terri Guzman and longtime friend Kristy Alves spearheaded a new effort to raise funds for the family. Alves and Kirksey sponsored a lunch on Sept. 4. Hometown Emporium made and sold pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans, chips, water and a cookie for just $10. All of the proceeds benefited America and her family.

“We’ve wanted to do something since we heard the news, but you never know when it’s the right time and we didn’t want to approach the family while she was in critical condition,” Kirksey said before the lunch time fundraiser. “Now, with her coming home, it feels like the right time.”

Kirksey, a local realtor, was driving back into town when she came upon the scene of the accident. It brought back difficult memories of when she was hit by a car when she was just 6 years old. She remembers the shock of the impact and the fear of an uncertain future.

“This girl had the grades to get into Point Loma Nazarene University but all of that was put on hold,” Kirksey said. “This community is coming together to make sure she can still go to college and live her life without medical bills hanging over her family.”

Alves’ bakery and deli Hometown Emporium is a popular lunchtime hangout for EUHS students. She said the days following the accident students began discussing ways they could help the family. The business owner remembered what it was like to be the mother of someone involved in a terrible accident after her son Frankie was injured during his time in the U.S. Navy.

“It was a long recovery and that’s very difficult for a mother to see their child go through,” Alves said.

The community had come together in several others ways to support the family. Teachers and students at EUHS donated gift and gas cards to the family. America’s sister, Cinthya Fernandez, skipped her own graduation from medical school in Mexico to return home and take care of their younger sister while her mother stayed by America’s side every day at the hospital.

Reed said that America’s family was looking to move out of their second story apartment because their daughters will be unable to use stairs in the beginning. When they couldn’t find one, a neighbor living on the first floor offered to switch apartments with them so they didn’t have the stress of moving to a new place.

“That tells me this young lady is so special,” Reed said.

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