Friday, May 8, 2009

Ava's Road to Recovery begins at Christus Santa Rosa

Today was Ava’s first full day at Christa Santa Rosa Hospital, and she apparently had a full schedule… OT (Occupational Therapy), PT (Physical Therapy), Speech Therapy, and her favorite today… a bath. Manny told me that she had a good day and continues to do well. Thanks to those who included links in their guestbook entries to the news clips so that people could see her, as well as Manny and Traci.

The “All for Ava” Rally this evening was very powerful in so many ways…

Seeing so many people wearing pink, in support of Ava.

Seeing all of the children running around, reminding us of why this is so important.

Seeing the number of people that came from other communities to show support.

Seeing the kids with posters from their schools.

Seeing people who had come sharing, talking, hugging, crying… together.

Seeing the generosity of others, wanting to contribute to this cause.

Seeing the news media’s interest in this story.

Seeing the number of people who came together to make the rally happen.

But the most powerful things at the rally…Manny’s mom, Beatrice… Jack… Isa… and Traci.

Jennifer, Jennifer, Kerri, and Marty did a great job getting this together with the help of many, while I have been assigned only the most envious jobs. Tonight I had the pleasure of picking up Traci and escorting her to the rally. When we got into the car to go to the rally, she was quite apprehensive about going, about seeing Ava’s pictures, about seeing everyone, and about the media coverage and about them wanting to talk to her. I joked that she should just consider me her body guard, but “God help us if we actually need one.”

On the way to the clubhouse we discussed how to handle the media if they start asking about controversial things and had agreed upon a signal for us to intervene, if things started to get overwhelming. Fortunately, the signal was never needed.

As we walked up to the Roger’s Ranch clubhouse the blown-up pictures of Ava prior to, and after her injury were unavoidable. Traci started to cry and said that she wasn’t sure if she was ready for this, but after a minute or two, she reiterated what I have heard her say many times over the past weeks, “I can do this. I have to be strong for Ava,” and she was.

The environment was almost carnival like with the news crews and reporters. MADD getting petition signatures. The shirts, the buttons, the ribbons, the balloons, the music, the posters, the signs, the people… It was awe inspiring to watch you all talk and mingle and be a part of a community of concerned people.

Prior to the planned speeches, Traci spent some time with Melissa Montgomery (Manager of Victim Services for MADD). Melissa was very sympathetic and gave Traci a long hug upon their introduction to one another inside the clubhouse. I was struck by the discussion regarding impaired driving in San Antonio and the discussions that they have already had with candidates for high ranking office in San Antonio and the mounting pressure to be more strict with our current laws and development of new legislation, as a result of Ava’s case. Melissa, reiterated… “Ava will be a poster child for MADD. It is hard for a story to be any more compelling than an 18 month-old girl, her sister and her mother being hit by a drunk driver in their own yard.” AGREED!!! She told Traci, we are here for you and for Ava “for life.”

Jennifer (my wife) spoke saying some very kind words regarding her love for the Lopez family and the honor it is to her to be their friend. Jennifer also recognized Manny’s brother, Tony, for designing the shirt logo and for printing the CaringBridge entries every day and taking them to Manny and Traci to read. “Keep your support coming.”

A prayer was said by a Deacon from a local church and a passage was read.

Kerri Thompson gave me a very nice introduction and allowed me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. The following is pretty close to what I said…

“Thank you: State senator Wentworth, District Attorney: Susan Reed, Melissa Montgomery: MADD, doctors and nurses of University Hospital, especially the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and the Rogers Ranch Community and all of you for coming to support the All of Ava rally.
Jack, Isa, Manny’s mother, Beatrice, and Traci Lopez.

Two weeks ago to the day, on the 23rd of April, a Hit-and-run drunk driver carelessly and irresponsibly left the roadway, jumping a sidewalk and hitting Traci Lopez, Isa Lopez, and 18 month-old Ava Lopez while they were in their side yard, enjoying time with each other. The psychological effects struck deep to the Lopez’s, the Rogers Ranch Community, and concerned parents across the United States.

The tragedy of this incident is apparent to all. On the evening of the 23rd of April my heart broke as I watched my friend of 15 years and neighbor try to breathe his own life into his 18 month-old daughter as he gave her mouth to mouth resuscitation. Consider the emotional agony.

My heart broke as I watched Traci Lopez weep uncontrollably for her daughter, despite her own injuries. My heart broke as I watched Isa and Jack Lopez watch in confusion as their sister was taken away and their parents were in a state that they have never seen before.

Ava Lopez was air-lifted to University Hospital were her injuries included a severe head trauma with a skull fracture and large amount of bleeding into her head. She also had multiple rib fractures, a pulmonary contusion, and an adrenal hemorrhage. Ava’s prognosis upon arrival to University Hospital was very poor and it was thought that she would not survive. Miraculously Ava has survived, and her body is healing well. Unfortunately Ava’s mental state remains in question. She does not respond to her environment or her parents. It is unclear whether Ava will ever progress beyond where she is right now, which is the equivalent of a newborn infant. However, our faith remains strong. And we have gathered here tonight to say that we believe in you Ava.

I have spoken at length with the Manny and Traci Lopez about this evening and the message that need to convey. Manny and Traci know that Ava represents all of our children. If this can happen while standing in your side yard, then it could have happened anywhere and to any of our children, any of our families. While we gather tonight to pray for Ava’s recovery and for the Lopez family, we also gather as a community from different communities because symbolically Ava is our child, and had this happened to any other child in any other community it would have been just as tragic. While it is emotionally painful to gather for this reason, just imagine if there had been a funeral instead.

This rally is to increase awareness of the safety of our children within our communities. Our families should be able to feel safe in our own yards and neighborhoods.

This rally is to bring attention not only to drunken driving or driving under the influence of other drugs. This rally is to call attention to the carelessness regarding driving that surrounds us in our own neighborhoods… speeding, running stop signs, failure to yield to school buses, driving while using the cell phone and any number of other driver distractions.

The communities in which we live are extensions of our homes. Our children, nor us, should live in fear of a driver, carelessly operating a 4000lbs vehicle. Operating a motor vehicle is a responsibility that we cannot take lightly. We all know who is going to pay the price when a 4000lbs vehicle going 30-40 miles per hour collides with a 25 lbs child, and her picture is right here.

Ava is a real child with real parents and they live in this very community… but it could have just as easily been your child. While the driver that hit Ava was intoxicated, it could have just as easily been texting on a cell phone, running a stop sign, etc.

This rally is to call attention to the numerous children who are injured or killed every year in such tragedies. If by our efforts, we only prevent one injury or save one life, then it will have been worth it. For that one life may be your own child.

May this rally serve as a reminder to all of us to be especially mindful of the responsibility that we bear as drivers.

Let this rally serve as a call to action within our own communities to be more aware of our children and their surroundings.

Let this be a call to action to push for stricter traffic control and enforcement n our communities.
Let this rally be used as an impetus to support MADD and similar organizations in their push for stricter drunk driving laws and enforcement to serve as a deterrent to others in an attempt to protect our families.

We are here tonight to let the Lopez family know that we are here for them and that we believe in Ava. We are here tonight to spread awareness of this issue and to make people think about their actions when deciding whether or not they are okay to drive and what they are doing while they drive. Please continue to wear your Ava buttons and t-shirts and spread the word about Ava’s story to bring awareness to this issue.”

At the beginning of the evening there was no expectation that Traci would speak tonight, but it was so moving that she did. It was inspiring to see her strength in the face of emotional adversity. What more powerful message than to hear Ava’s mother speak on behalf of her daughter? It was so great to see Traci address all of us because it told everyone that she was emotionally strong and gave us reassurance and comfort to see her strong and well. It allowed everyone an opportunity to share with her, to be with her, to be a part of her and her pain. I looked out into the audience while she was speaking and saw so many teary-eyed faces. I know that their hearts pained at the thought of having to live the hell that the Lopez’s have been through these past two weeks. It is so very important for us to feel that we are a part of this, and it is very important for you to realize that you are.

Afterward, I could see the relief in her face and the peace that being with all of you tonight brought her. She said afterward that she was really glad that she was there. While we did not have much opportunity to talk of it later, I am sure that it was emotionally cleansing to have an opportunity to thank you all personally and to be with so many people that love them and are praying and pulling for Ava every day.

I was glad for her tonight and proud of all of you for filling her with so much love and encouragement. After the speeches were finished, Traci had a “receiving line” that continued for the next hour and a half. She left exhausted, but was renewed. Thank you all for coming tonight and showing your support for the Lopez family.

Special thanks to Jennifer, Jennifer, Kerri, Marty, and others for organizing such a wonderful event for all of us. I am only sorry that it was for this reason. I am honored to be associated with you all.

“All for Ava”


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