There are times in all of our lives when we’re fortunate enough to meet people who inspire us.
That inspiration can come forth in a variety of ways. Those people may have done some good deeds. They may have served their country and done their part to protect the freedoms we all take for granted. Or they may have overcome something horrific or are battling an illness and are determined to come out on top.
In the past week alone, we’ve met three people who define toughness. They truly have inspired us to be better people. And to say we have complete respect and admiration for them might be the understatement of the year.
One of those is a 53-year-old man who was gunned down by a sniper last year and then made a remarkable recovery. One is a 17-year-old high school senior who desperately needs a kidney transplant. And the other is a fourth-grader who is facing a highly complicated surgery that involves removing organs and transplanting islet cells into her liver so that she can move past years of pain and get on with the life a 9-year-old should be living.
We’ll start with Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, who was shot by James Hodgkinson in Alexandria, Va., on June 14, 2017, as he and his Republican colleagues practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game that pits GOP lawmakers against their Democratic counterparts. Scalise made a stop in The Villages last week at Barnes & Noble in Lake Sumter Landing to sign copies of his book, “Back in the Game: One Gunman, Countless Heroes, and the Fight for My Life.”
In the inspirational 304-page memoir, the baseball lover shares details of the harrowing experience that almost claimed his life. He pays tribute to the many who helped him – the little miracles, he and his wife, Jennifer, call them. And he takes readers on the year-long journey of recovery, all the way up until the day he returned to the baseball field a year to the day after he was shot to start at second base and throw out the first Democratic batter in the annual game.
“Just to be able to experience that moment was something,” Scalise said during his visit last Monday. “God had his hand in that play and it was unbelievable.”
If you attended the book-signing event, then you know that huge smiles, warm hugs and long embraces were the norm. Scalise spent time addressing the crowd before he started signing books and even took a few selfies with them in the background. And he chatted with each person who purchased his book and shared moments with them that they’ll probably never forget.
It’s important to note that Scalise, the minority whip-to-be, arrived using a crutch that he’s working extremely hard through hours of difficult physical therapy to get rid of. And even though it was obvious that standing up was painful at times, a smiling Scalise did just that throughout the afternoon as he posed for photo and after photo with adoring fans.
After the event, Scalise said he knows he’s lucky to be alive and truly appreciates each day and the people he gets to meet along the way.
“I know how close I was to not making it and what kind of miracles had to be performed,” he said. “If every single thing didn’t happen just right, I wouldn’t be here.”
Scalise also offered heartfelt words of thanks to everyone who came to meet him.
“Seeing so many people who wanted to hug and said they were praying for me, that just is such an incredible feeling,” he said.
Along those same lines, there’s a 17-year-old named Cole Tumey just up the road in Belleview who is battling health issues while he awaits a much-needed kidney transplant. Cole’s parents, Leona and Chris Yawn, have been joined by family friend Tracy Gooden in the effort to find a donor for Cole, an honor student at Village View Christian Academy.
Cole’s story is one that makes you want to get involved and pull for this all-American family. He received a kidney from Leona when he was just two years old, but that organ is now failing, possibly because of all the medications he has to take. So while he waits for a donor to come forward, the high school senior is dealing with hours of tiring dialysis, long medical appointments at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, bouts of extremely high blood pressure, seizures and hearing loss.
But the Village View Christian Academy homecoming king – an avid sports enthusiast, a big brother to Cage and a self-taught guitar player who performs with the band at New Identity Community Church in Belleview on Sunday mornings – is facing it all with a constant smile on his face.
“He’s such a great kid,” Gooden said. “He just loves the Lord and he’s got such a wonderful attitude.”
Sure, Cole could hang his head and feel sorry for himself. The battle he’s facing is a tough one. But Leona said that just isn’t Cole’s style or the way he approaches life. And she added that her entire family appreciates the love and support they’ve received as they continue their quest through many avenues, including a Facebook page titled Team Cole, to find a donor to give her son a new lease on life, and a GoFundMe account that can be reached by clicking HERE.
“There is someone out there that is a match,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Let’s give Cole the best Christmas ever and find him that kidney.”
Finally, there’s a 9-year-old named Abigail “Abby” Lacayo in Wildwood who will own your heart once you hear her story. She’s a straight-A fourth-grader at Wildwood Elementary School. And she suffers from Hereditary Chronic Pancreatitis and Gastro Paresis that has caused her excruciating pain and bloating for the past several years.
Later this week, Abby will travel to the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for appointments and preoperative testing. And on Dec. 12, a team of specialized surgeons will remove Abby’s pancreas, spleen and gallbladder, while also transplanting islet cells into her liver in what most likely will be a 12- to 14-hour-long surgery.
Once that procedure is finished, Abby will stay in Minnesota for anywhere from six to 12 weeks to recuperate and be closely monitored by doctors there. She’ll immediately become a diabetic once the surgery is completed, but her parents, Gina and Denis, are prepared to deal with that disease, which at least will be manageable for the young girl whose smile easily melts the hearts of those she comes in contact with.
Just ask Villager Faye Scher, a volunteer at Abby’s school and a member of the charity-oriented Gilchrist West Social Club. Scher started a GoFundMe account for Abby that as of this past Friday afternoon was sitting at $23,128. That money certainly will come in handy for Abby’s parents as they face daunting, unknown medical bills and extensive travel expenses while staying in Minnesota.
Scher, herself an inspiration to others, has done everything in her power to help Abby and her family and is encouraging everyone who can to make a donation to help offset the expenses.
Luckily, Abby and Gina recently got a huge boost when they met Kristi Zimmer and her daughter, Bryce, during a trip to their home in Melbourne. Bryce, 12, traveled the same road Abby is going down, at the same age, at the same hospital, and at the same time of year. Her surgery was a huge success and today, she’s leading a normal, healthy life – the same kind of life young Abby deserves.
As we said earlier, sometimes we’re all fortunate enough to meet people who inspire us and make us want to be better people. We’d certainly put Steve, Cole and Abby in that category. And like all of you, we’ll continue to pray for Steve’s complete recovery, a donor to come forward for Cole and a successful surgery that puts the days of intense pain in the rearview mirror for Abby.
To each of these people, we say “thank you” for sharing your stories. Each of you define the word inspiration. And we wish you nothing but success and years of good health moving forward.