It’s hard enough living day-to-day trying to keep the balance of a growing family. But if the unexpected occurs, a family component can change in an instant.
One day in May, this year, mom Katie Chandler and her teenage daughter Valerie were driving home to Wellington from Miami. On Southern Blvd., the car that they were in suddenly hit a pole and flipped over, rolling before righting itself facing the oncoming traffic. No other car was involved, and Katie cannot recall what happened before waking up and finding her daughter with bruising and internal bleeding. Valerie had injured her spine.
This Wellington family is experiencing a sudden modification in their life, and now after almost four months in the hospital, Valerie may get to come home. The family is keeping their spirits high, but each member has their own pain, grieving the old life they once had.
Fortunately for the Chandlers, they have their faith, but keeping things together can be overwhelming. The insurance claims and the paperwork alone from being in the hospital is a full-time job. There in the children’s wing, Valerie lives each day to be strong.
Having one daughter in the hospital puts a bit of guilt on parents Katie and Donald Chandler, who also must tend to the needs of Valerie’s 10-year old sister, Camryn, at home. They now need to adapt to a family scattered in different directions trying to cope, grieve and keep going, even though there is a long road ahead.
The moving parts are not simple, so the Chandlers need the community’s help. Right now, they need gift cards from Target, Publix, gas cards, restaurants like Chick-fil-A and PDQ, monetary donations, housing, renovations, babysitting and assisting Katie with all of her ongoing responsibilities.
Supporting Donald, who cannot just run in and fix this one, will take some special skill, as men often want to be strong at times like this. Camryn is going to need some caring parents who can arrange play dates, picking her up to see that she’s safe and sound back home. Valerie will need well-wishers who know how to help and encourage her not to give up.
Katie described Valerie’s injuries and how the family is coping.
“Valerie has a huge scar from her chest to her navel where they had to go in to do exploratory surgery to find the internal bleeding,” her mother explained. “She had to have her spleen removed. She had lacerations to her kidneys, trauma to her heart, and fractured her back and pelvis. She had two bars that are attached to her pelvis, and five days in had a spinal fusion. The fracture in her back is what caused the spinal cord injury.”
Since the accident, they have been taking it one day at a time.
“This is every family’s worst nightmare, but we are trying to be as positive as we can,” Katie said. “We have talked as a family, and it doesn’t serve any purpose to ask why and to question it. We are moving forward with prayer and belief, doing the best that we can. This change is forever, but I tell the kids, we have to be positive.”
Valerie was at St. Mary’s Medical Center from May to early July, and then moved to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, where she is now, getting physical and occupational therapy to build her strength back. Yet due to the severity of her injuries, Valerie must also deal with the inevitable setbacks.
Once finished with therapy, Valerie will need surgery to remove kidney stones that have formed. She has gotten infections and had fevers due to her body coping with the trauma. But always a fighter, Valerie is making her way back.
“Valerie has a bright personality,” Katie said of her daughter. “She is funny, intelligent, has a good attitude and she’s competitive. She loves animals and art. She wants to be stronger and be independent as much as possible to get back to some normalcy. She is working very hard because she wants to go back to school. We won’t be able to start school right away, but this is our goal.”
The Chandlers moved to Wellington 10 years ago. Both girls attended local elementary schools. Valerie is going into the eighth grade at Emerald Cove Middle School, while Camryn will be a fifth grader at Elbridge Gale Elementary School. The family is now just living on Donald’s income, as Katie has taken leave to be with Valerie full-time.
“We are just team-tagging back and forth, right now,” Katie explained. “I am here in the hospital about 80 percent of the time, and then my husband comes from work to give me a break, so I can spend time with my other daughter.”
When Valerie is released from the hospital in a few weeks, she won’t be able to return home. The four-bedroom, two-bath house where the Chandlers live will not be updated in time. In fact, the Chandlers don’t know yet if they should even renovate the house at all because it may not suit their new life, given the obstacles that come with retrofitting a house for a wheelchair.
In the meantime, they will move into an apartment on Sept. 1. But there will be a gap between when they can move into the temporary dwelling. The family needs a provisional place somewhere for the interim. Then, once they are settled in the apartment, they will begin searching for a house that will suit their family’s needs and their new life to come.
Currently, the family needs a home that is single story, open floor plan, no stairs or steps, 36-inch-wide door frames that a wheelchair can fit through; a home where the bathrooms are wide and spacious. The Chandlers want to stay in Wellington, and if they can stay in the Eastwood neighborhood, where they live now, it would be ideal.
The family is looking forward to some ordinary family time together where it’s not so complicated and they can live under one roof. They are grateful and appreciative of everyone who has reached out to show their family love and comfort.
If you can help the Chandler family in any way, Katie Chandler can be reached at (561) 628-1339. There is also a GoFundMe page set up for Valerie at www.gofundme.com/f/trqu3-spinal-surgery.