Thanksgiving makes its annual appearance in homes across the region this week. It is a holiday like no other; gatherings of families sharing fellowship and good food, swapping stories, enjoying the company of loved ones without the necessity of gifts and lavish surroundings. Coming on the heels of Veterans Day, it gives us all a time of reflection for the blessings of our lives.
For Lycoming County United Way, it also is a time to extend 'thanks' for the 'giving' that so generously is shared by the thousands of individuals and businesses that annually share their bounty with Lycoming County residents facing real-life personal crisis unable to be solved alone. For them, Thanksgiving is not limited to the fourth Thursday in November.
Among those touched by the United Way hand of hope are Gretchen Phillips-Fisher and her daughter Symphony, whose own 'Thanksgiving miracle' provided life sustaining help at a time when their hope had run out.
Symphony takes her first steps.
In the months following Symphony's birth in 2006, Gretchen was shocked to discover that unbeknownst to her, 3-month old "Symmy" was diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome. Returning to work after the baby's birth, Symmy was left in the care of her husband during the day. The next few months were a personal hell as authorities, feeling Gretchen also was to blame, removed the baby to the care of foster parents.
Gretchen describes "an angel" then entering her family's life in the presence of Sandy Spencer a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer for the YWCA-based program funded in part by LCUW allocations. Through Spencer's efforts, the court returned Symmy to her mother. With the support of Wise Options, another program of the YWCA funded by United Way, Gretchen divorced her husband, who is in prison for his actions, and began the long, difficult process of improving Symmy's physical condition.
In the meantime, early medical procedures had failed to produce much progress or hope, until Thanksgiving 2006 produced an emotional turnaround.
"Symmy had undergone countless tests and procedures, but I was told to gather the family as it was unlikely she wouldn't survive past the Thanksgiving weekend. With family and close friends at the hospital, tearful good-byes were said to my innocent little baby girl," Gretchen explained.
"Later that evening, my 8-year-old son Tyler sat on the couch holding Symmy in his arms. He lovingly caressed her and told her he loved her and it was alright for her to now go and be with the angels. The emotion exploded inside me. I ran out of the house and fell to my knees in the parking lot with a pouring rain soaking me. I asked the Lord to spare Symmy's pain and take her if He felt that was what He wanted," she said.
"Somehow, Symmy lived through the night. The next morning I received a telephone call from a doctor at Hershey Medical Center. He had learned of Symmy's story and asked me to bring her there. After examining her, Dr. Mark Iantosca said he thought he could help, but offered no guarantees. What followed for my sweet little baby were six brain surgeries, eye surgery and two shunts installed in her brain. It has been, and always will be, an extremely difficult journey, but with extensive physical therapy at Children's Development Center, she then learned to crawl and a few months ago took her first steps on her own with walker," Gretchen said.
"Now, three Thanksgivings later, she faced another emergency surgery for an infection in one of the shunts in her brain, but the doctor says she will be up and around and playing soon," Gretchen said. "Just as I will always be thankful to Sandy, CASA, the YWCA, Children's Development Center and the United Way, I will always remember that 2006 Thanksgiving miracle. It gave us all hope and gave Symmy another chance at life."
For more information on Lycoming County United Way or to support the campaign that funds programs like these, visit www.lcuw.org or call 323-9448.