Sandra Messana, an eighth grade science teacher at Community House Middle School, was out of school for a week this past November.
Her 2-year-old grand-nephew, Tripp Halstead, was critically injured when a falling tree branch hit his head on Oct. 29. Winds from Hurricane Sandy were making their way through Atlanta.
The 250-pound tree branch hit a fence first, and then crushed his skull. Tripp was exiting a playground with his class at a day care center.
Matthew McGinniss, Gus Jewell, and Caroline Peer are three of Messana’s students. While she was gone, they setup a table in the school lobby and collected money for Tripp’s medical expenses.
“These kids were here day in and day out, collecting money in the mornings and after school. You can’t imagine how surprised and humbled I was when I came back to discover all that they had done,” Messana said.
In later weeks, Caroline’s neighbor, Jackie Adams, put Tripp’s picture on buttons, and they sold them. Matthew’s mom, Cindy McGinnis, and school PTO member Fran McDermott also helped the students in their efforts. They have collected about $3,000 from donations, penny wars, and the sale of T-shirts and buttons. Caroline said, “I really want to do more.”
But Messana told the students it was OK to stop fundraising. “I just felt like the school had done enough. These kids are simply amazing. I feel so blessed to teach them and to have them in our lives, caring so much about my family and Tripp.”
Many fundraisers have been held in the Atlanta area, and the “Save it for a Rainy Day” foundation is helping the family. Messana said, “Tripp never saw a stranger. He is only 2, but he had such a personality before the accident. He would walk up to people, do a fist pump to the other person’s fist, and say ‘boom.’ ”
Tripp’s mom, Stacy, maintains a Facebook page that has half a million followers. Stacy posts daily updates on his progress. It doesn’t take long to figure out the magnitude of their caregiving, and how the updates are from her heart. Tripp is the only child of Bill and Stacy Halstead.
Tripp was in the hospital for about four months. Doctors say he shouldn’t have survived the accident. He has never stopped fighting to live.
“Tripp was on life support but always responding,” Messana said. “We are a big, close family, and we are behind them all the way.” He has to be fed through a tube, he cannot speak or walk, and he has a shunt in his brain to drain fluid.
In February, he contracted E. coli and bacterial meningitis, two illnesses that can be fatal. Tripp pulled through, although any strides he had made were lost after his illness. Recently he had to have gall bladder surgery.
On April 23, Tripp’s mom posted that he had turned his body to touch his cousin, Tori Beth, and then he touched her hand.
Emily Mathias is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Emily? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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