This is the time of year for the Top 10 lists — the hottest stories, the heroes and evildoers, the best and worst from all the stuff that makes the headlines. But sometimes, the most powerful stories are not about world leaders and wars, natural disasters and global Ponzi schemes. They’re about our neighbors’ triumphs and tragedies, a persistent young mom or an obscure janitor caught in a freak accident.
Two local stories and one from the national stage offer proof that off-list events can be miracle enough, or tragedy enough, to matter.
Alex comes home
Last May, Lacey Cairns of Longview became so desperate trying to care for her severely autistic son, Alex, that she begged doctors at St. John Medical Center and local service agencies to find a residential facility for him. A June feature told about Cairns’s struggle to get help with her son.
The 9-year-old boy, who chewed his own feet down to the bone, barrelled around the house biting, pinching and slamming into his sister and two brothers. One minute he would be cuddling with Cairns, and the next he’d try to rip her hair out.
Dr. Blaine Tolby, who once called Alex the “Mount Everest” of autism, went to bat for Cairns, who’s a single mother.
“Oh Lord, does she need help,” the pediatrician said last summer. “She’s an incredibly strong woman dealing with a challenge way beyond the average.”
Cairns touched a nerve or two, and Residential Resources, which coordinates housing for the developmentally disabled, went into action.
They placed Alex at Fircrest, north of Seattle, for six months, and state funds allowed Cairns to visit him once a week while she waited for a place for her son closer to home.
Nov. 10, thanks to the combined hustle of Tolby, Residential Resources, the Department of Social and Health Services, Catholic social services and other agencies, Alex moved into a Kelso house where two caregivers watch over him “24/7,” Cairns said.
“It’s going really well,” she said last week. “It’s a small house, and he has a swing set, a tire swing, a trampoline, all his therapy stuff, balls to roll around on and exercise with.”
Because Alex is so explosive and aggressive, his caregivers keep him involved in structured chores and activities, his mother said. In about two months, he’ll move to a group home with several other similarly affected children.
The last six months have “definitely” improved her life, Cairns said. “I get sleep, I’m not as stressed out and I get to be a mom” to the other three children.
“It’s better for my relationship with Alex, too,” she said. “I’m not the nurse and bodyguard now. I’m not so exhausted. And my other kids don’t have to live in fear.”
It’s still hard for her to believe that the placement became a reality, said Cairns, who visits Alex every other day.
“This is exactly what I asked for when he was in ER for 12 days,’ she said. “Residential Resources asked me what we needed, and Valerie (Hill) worked with me from day one. She was the one who showed me what was out there. …
“I never thought this would happen. I was just hoping for other people to see what it was like, living with Alex,” she said.
“Basically, this is a miracle.”
She was nursing her first child when a semi truck turned in front of the car she and her husband were driving in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Michelle Garcia survived with five bruised and cracked ribs and an injured left breast. Her husband, Ignacio, suffered a crushed femur.
The baby, now 15-year-old Brianna, was fine.
The couple moved to Kelso, where they lived for more than 11 years, involved with their jobs, Kelso schools and soccer games. In 2002, a series of articles in The Daily News featured several Mexican families, including Ignacio’s extended family in Michoacan, who benefitted from the money he sent them as owner of his own janitorial service.
The Garcias’ life rolled on. It never occurred to Michelle, who also nursed her two younger children, that the car accident years ago might affect her once again.
In 2004, she was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast, only eight months after a mammogram failed to detect anything. “By then, it was not a lump, but a mass,” she wrote in a recent essay contest at The Daily News.
Garcia went through chemotherapy and lost her thick black hair. She kept right on working at her then new job at the local Emergency Support Shelter.
“I started wearing a wig,” she wrote in her essay. “I didn’t want to scare off my clients!” Once, talking to someone outside the Grocery Outlet, a gust of wind blew the wig off. “The lady — so kind — went chasing after it across the parking lot. It turned out she was an oncology nurse. I stood there with my wig in my hand and we finished our conversation.”
The anecdote is just like Garcia.
Organized, hard-working, humorous, she continues to work for the local Support Shelter as an advocate for crime victims in Clark County. And she continues to thwart cancer: two more occurrences in the last four years.
She was diagnosed last March with cancer in her nasal pharynx area. Treatment seemed to kill that cancer and in July, Garcia was told she was cancer-free.
“How do I stay positive?” she wrote in her essay this fall. “My deep faith in God, my family, the support and prayers from co-workers and friends!”
The week after she entered the essay contest on being a cancer survivor, Garcia was diagnosed again, with stage 4 cancer in the lymph glands in her neck.
Through more chemotherapy treatments and another head of hair lost, the intrepid Garcia works 40 hours a week and manages her household while Ignacio runs the janitorial service that has gone from 16 to 45 employees.
“I have no adverse reactions to chemo,” Michelle said matter-of-factly last week. “I’ve always done well. … I feel the same as usual. I have to keep working.”
She goes to court with crime victims, gives presentations and helps with protection orders.
“There are things for me to do! I feel fortunate and blessed to have this job. And I’m raising three kids. I have no time for this.”
Noah, her 6-year-old son, gets scared that she will die and massages her head to get her hair to grow, she said. For the children, especially her daughters, Garcia said she wants to be a role model of courage.
“I have to be strong for my husband and kids.”
Garcia said she prays throughout every busy day. “I’m a big believer. It’s a healing force, and it calms me.”
She also trusts her oncologist, Dr. Robert Ellis, and the treatment regimen. “I’m spiritual, but I’m not stupid. The technology, the tests, we have to use them. That’s what it’s there for.”
Friday, Ellis had good news for her, Garcia said. “The lymph nodes in my neck have shrunk. He’s very pleased.”
Expecting to get well, she said, is half the battle.
“The thought of my kids without me — that fuels me. They’ve already seen how I handle it. They’re counting on me.”
‘Let the Lord judge’
The week before Thanksgiving, a 34-year-old part-time construction worker and fence builder took a temp job doing janitorial work at a Wal-Mart in Long Island, New York. On Black Friday, Jdimytai “Jimmy” Damour was stomped to death by hundreds of shoppers desperate to get rock-bottom bargains at the store.
News reports and a video reveal how the people, who had been waiting for hours, pressed against the doors at dawn, finally shattering them and stampeding into the store, crushing the seasonal worker to death.
Damour, whose Haitian name means “of love” in French, was as big as a linebacker, and he had been positioned in front of the Wal-Mart entrance to control the crowd.
When you Google “Wal-Mart and Damour,” the most viewed stories that pop up are about the lawsuit brought by Damour’s mother and siblings within three days of the event.
His father, Ogera Charles, was quoted as rejecting the notion of trying to identify those who killed Damour. “Let the Lord judge,” Charles said. “I lost my son already.”
Interspersed with stories about the lawsuit and the first news accounts of the trampling death are various union and anti-consumerism commentaries.
The Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, for instance, posted this reaction:
“… there was a Magnavox flat-screen TV and DVD player on sale at the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Island, available on Black Friday only, for $147,” Billy writes. “That is the deal that waits behind Jdimytai Damour. There he stands at the electronic doors, looking out at us. We stand in the darkness, pushing out with our elbows, spying the shiny packages up the aisles. We are a distorted America standing in the pre-dawn darkness. We have turned our Pursuit of Happiness into this desperate feeling. Jdimytai watches us. We push on the glass. ..”
Much of the public outcry focused on the issue of greed.
JT, a Chicago blogger who posted on the New York site “DOT Earth,” wrote the following:
“This isn’t Ethiopia in a famine. … This isn’t a war-torn country mobbing a food truck. This is a bunch of sick people, so obsessed to get a deal on a Wal-Mart product that they were even pushing the cops while they were trying to give CPR!
“Think, people. Think long and hard about what you’re doing, who you’re choosing to be. Here it is, the “Christmas” season, and some people just killed a man over a little lower a price on a Christmas gift? Is that even REMOTELY what the season is about? … Can behavior like that even be called human?
“… Look inside yourselves at the things that motivate you to push and shove, to be competitive over a lane change or a parking space … or a few dollars off at a store … and the consequences others pay for that selfishness. … (Let’s) remember this man and his loved ones this Christmas and the next. Let us learn from it, that we don’t forget the price this man and his loved ones paid to show us ourselves in the mirror. It’s a pretty ghastly sight. Let us vow to do better.”
In the 53rd story in Google, a few details emerge about Damour on the HaitiXchange Web site. A friend describes him as big, easy-going, a fan of poetry and the novels of Donald Goines, a best-selling writer, Army vet, and former “career criminal and addict who wrote his first two novels in prison.”
Of all the angles on the Wal-Mart stampede, it’s difficult to find more than five sentences about Damour’s history, personality, accomplishments or struggles. His death has generated reams of text, but not much curiosity about who he was.