By Pat Jenkins
An Eatonville-area family is on a long road to recovery from a traffic accident 50 days ago that sent all of them to hospitals with injuries and left one of the youngest members paralyzed.
“We are holding up as best we can,” Sara Harris said last week as she prepared for an operation and another 12 weeks of being in a wheelchair.
Her husband, Doug, also wheelchair-bound since the accident, has pain in his hips and ribs and faces months of rehabiliation of a broken leg in order to resume walking.
Their 7-year-old daughter, McKenzie, is a quadriplegic as a result of the injuries she suffered. She’s confined to a bed at Seattle Children’s Hospital and breathing with the aid of a ventilator. But, her mother said, “she’s in good spirits and is having small milestones of improvement each day. She’ll require extensive rehab as an inpatient as well as outpatient when we get her home.”
The Harris’ son, Wyatt, who’s 3 years old, “is doing well,” Sara said. “He’s having a bit of a hard time adjusting to our new normal, but overall he’s in good spirits.”
The family was almost home Jan. 1 when their pickup truck that Sara was driving was hit head-on by another pickup that crossed the centerline of State Route 7 near the intersection of 316th Street East. The other driver, Glenn Fitting, 48, of Eatonville, died as a result of the crash that destroyed both vehicles. The State Patrol said he may have been having a medical emergency and apparently was driving himself to a hospital for attention.
Fire department aid cars and ambulances rushed the Harris family to different hospitals in Tacoma – McKenzie and Wyatt to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, and Sara, 34, and Douglas, 37, to Tacoma General. Sara’s nieces, who were spending the holiday with the Harris family and were with them when the accident happened – Nevea Fawcett, 8, and Payton Maples, 4, both of Puyallup – were also taken to Mary Bridge but are now “recovering well at home,” Sara said.
Home temporarily for Sara, Doug and Wyatt is Ronald McDonald House. The housing facility in Seattle is for families whose children are long-term patients at nearby Children’s Hospital, where McKenzie will be indefinitely for more surgeries and therapy.
As of last week, the family wasn’t sure when it can be home together. Doctors have told them “it could be another couple months or so” before McKenzie is released from the hospital, Sara said.
To help the family now and after they’re back home, friends and community members are rallying support. The Harris Family Fund, for donations to help with expenses, has been opened at Key Bank. Contributions can also be made online at www.youcaring.com/theharrisfamily.
Medical bills and the cost of special equipment for McKenzie in the years ahead are expected to “max out our insurance, if they haven’t already,” Sara said. “We can’t even begin to imagine how much all of her supplies, equipment and daily needs will be with the 24-hour care she’ll need.”
A fund-raising dinner and auction on a date still to be decided is being pulled together partly by John and Tammi Bratholm, who helped organize similar events for others when they were owners of a restaurant in Eatonville. “We have a great team working together,” said Tammi Bratholm, who now is an advertising representative for The Dispatch.
The team includes Peg Heacock, the mother of Richelle Heacock, who was left paralyzed by a traffic accident in 2010 as she was driving home from college to attend the funeral of Kent Mundell, a slain Pierce County Sheriff Department deputy who worked with her father, John, also a deputy. Through volunteers and community efforts, the Ashford family’s home was remodeled to accommodate Richelle, and Peg Heacock will advise the Harris family on making their home wheelchair-accessible for McKenzie. Volunteers also are discussing ways to make changes to the house.
Richelle Heacock started a “Team McKenzie” Facebook site to keep track of the progress of McKenzie, her family and ways to help them. The page had 672 likes the first 24 hours it was up, an indication of the outpouring of support for the Harrises, Tammi Bratholm said.
“We are all getting so many messages from people wanting to help, we can hardly keep up,” Bratholm said.
Sara Harris said her family is touched by all the well wishes and efforts to help them.
“People can support us by continuing to pray for our family, especially our sweet little princess,” she said.