After one Lodi vice principal’s family received a generous gift from the Wounded Warrior Foundation, parents at Vineyard Christian Middle School began looking for a way to give back.
In September 2013, Christie Hilscher got the kind of phone call every mother dreads.
Her son Garrett Hilscher, who serves in the Navy, was stationed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in Norfolk, Va. The 24-year-old had been sick with a case of strep throat for a few days, and was walking to a medical appointment when he collapsed. When his mother got the call, Hilscher was in a hospital in an induced coma on the other side of the country.
Christie Hilscher immediately took time off from her job as vice principal of Vineyard Christian Middle School to be with her son.
Garrett Hilscher was admitted to a civilian hospital for their Level 2 Trauma Center and taken to the intensive care unit. Doctors found that his lungs were full of fluid from acute respiratory distress syndrome.
As a result, his body was in toxic shock and he had sepsis. He was sedated, intubated and on life support for 11 days.
One thing Hilscher’s family didn’t have to worry about? Paying the bills.
Christie Hilscher was in a waiting room when Georgia Momsen, a representative from Wounded Warriors, approached her.
“She showed up and you’re thinking, ‘It’s the government, what do you want from us?’” Christie Hilscher said. “But she was there to make sure we weren’t thinking about bills at home or at the hospital. That we could just focus on Garrett.”
The organization took care of finances, paperwork and even housing for the sailor’s family while he recovered. The group also paid for and arranged a trip home to Lodi for a month of convalescence.
Garrett Hilscher remembers waking up in the hospital with 12 days of his life gone. He also remembers the Wounded Warriors staff getting right to work.
“They were a complete blessing. There was zero time wasted. They made sure we had everything we needed,” Garrett Hilscher said.
In all, Garrett Hilscher spent 42 days in the hospital. Doctors treated an infection in his heart and his spleen, and prescribed plenty of antibiotics. His mother and grandmother spent five weeks at his side.
During those weeks when Christie Hilscher was away from school, families at Vineyard Christian were deep in planning mode.
“We were just two mothers sitting in the playground thinking ‘what can we do,’” said Lyanne Paustenbach, a parent at the school. “We needed to give back. It touched our hearts.”
She and Gina Aki have worked together for months to organize and raise money for the Wounded Warriors groups.
Vineyard Christian’s mascot is the Warriors, so their idea became known as Warriors for Wounded Warriors.
The group has already raised $10,000 through a matching offer from the Bill Parsons Foundation, as well as local fundraisers, private family donations, and tithe donations from the school.
While Garrett Hilscher was at home on leave, he came and spoke to the school during their chapel time.
“We’re never so close to something like this,” Paustenbach said. “The students saw Garrett and heard the story of a real person.”
The visit spurred their efforts even further.
The main event is coming up this weekend.
Three Christian schools in Lodi are coming together to host the Warriors for Wounded Warriors Run/Walk at Lodi Lake. Vineyard Christian Middle School, Lodi Christian School and Jim Elliot Christian High School are raising funds to support Semper Fi and America’s Fund. These two organizations are the funding arms for Wounded Warriors and the work they do.
The track runs just under two miles. The $25 participation fee covers the walk, a T-shirt and a photograph for those who sign up by Feb. 5, and it’s tax deductible.
“We’re encouraging people to wear their fatigues or military branch shirts,” Paustenbach said.
Christie Hilscher was overwhelmed to learn what was going on behind the scenes while her family was in survival mode.
“Wounded Warriors was wonderful for my family. My school was wonderful,” Christie Hilscher said. “All these months later, we’re still experiencing this pay-it-forward. Just that Garrett is here is such a gift, but we continue to be blessed.”
Four months after his illness, Garrett Hilscher is back lifting weights in the gym, swimming daily and working full time. He re-enlisted in the Navy while at the hospital.
“I think it’s just outstanding. It’s so cool how serious the students are about it, and how much money they have been raising,” he said.
Hilscher will be present for the walk, courtesy of Semper Fi.