On Jan. 20, 2011, I received one of the worst phone calls in my life. It was a call from my dad letting me know that my brother, Zachary, had collapsed while playing basketball and was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital - he was fighting for his life. It was the first time, and hopefully the only time, that I will ever have to buy a one-way ticket for the fear of the unknown. A simple two-hour flight felt like an eternity to me. The thought of losing my brother was unbearable.
When I arrived at Sanford Hospital, many people wondered who I was: "Zach has a sister?" "Where did she come from?"
Well, I do exist! I have lived in Colorado for the past seven years, so I have only met a few of Zach's friends. Even though I didn't know many of the people who were at the hospital, everyone there welcomed me with open arms and showed me what a small town is all about. I was overwhelmed by all of the love and support one town could give.
So, because of that, I say 'thank you!'
Unfortunately, one year later, some of these same people who rallied together to support my brother and our family, have either been trying to dictate how the benefit fund should be used and spreading rumors to support their intrusion, or are believers of these rumors. They are playing the role of judge and jury based on speculation.
What happened to that small town support? Unless you are a family member of someone who experiences a traumatic event, you cannot possibly begin to understand the full extent of the injury or the process of recovery.
I realize that some of these rumors are the result of concern about how the money is being spent, so instead of guessing or passing on rumors, just ask. My family has always been and will always be open about where the money has been used.
I remember when the fundraisers were being held and each one of them stated the donations were "to help the Gabbard family." I sincerely thank everyone who contributed/donated their time and/or money.
The money donated to those fundraisers helped pay one month's rent for my family in Colorado, because I missed four weeks of work to be by Zach's side. It also paid for round-trip airline tickets for my son and I in March to see Zach's progress. My son looks up to his Uncle Zach and was very concerned and wanted to come see him.
However, donations are gifts; gifts that shouldn't come with judgment and speculation.
Rumors are being started by the very people who we thought were helping us, people who we thought were our friends. Believing these rumors are some of the same 'friends' who supported my family one year ago, 'friends' that seem to think they know what is better for my brother than my own parents.
One of these rumors is that Zach's trip to California was for the benefit of my parents, and not for the benefit of Zach. Anyone who knows Zach knows that basketball is his life. Zach being cleared to play basketball can only help with his recovery.
I ask any parent out there to 'turn the table' - if your child experienced a traumatic event and wanted to, and was able to, resume their life as they so choose, wouldn't you do everything you could possibly do to help them accomplish that? Or would you rather they just sit around the rest of their life, inactive, depressed, and down on themselves? My parents don't agree with that and neither do I. That is why he went to California!
I was once in awe of this small town with all of its compassion, but unfortunately, some are choosing to decide what is the truth without gathering the facts.
We were with Zach at the hospital and sat with trepidation through every one of his surgeries. My parents attended all of his therapies from March through August; talked with doctors; bought his medications for him (they still have not been reimbursed from the benefit fund for any expenses since July); they have listened to Zach express his feelings; are working with him on his memory loss; making sure he graduates with his classmates; continues to college. The list is endless.
Yet others think they know what is best for Zach? There are two sides to every story - know the facts.
I do realize that there are still many who have not joined in this juvenile display of high school gossip, and to that I say, 'thank you.' Thank you for having the integrity of not believing in these outlandish rumors, for staying by my brother's side, and maintaining that small town love and support that you showed me one year ago.