Sardis community cares for its own

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By Phil Swindall/WGAD  Radio News Director

A Sardis High School student with autism is in Boston, Mass., this week to meet with medical specialists to deal with a recent diagnosis of frontal lobe seizures.

Nineteen-year old John Gaskin of Sardis and his mother Vicky were honored last week with a huge fundraising effort by his fellow students and teachers to help pay for the trip and eventual treatments for the ailment.

In a phone interview this week, Vicky Gaskin said that she, her mother and John were enjoying their trip to Boston.

“These people are the nicest Yankees I’ve ever met,” she said.

Tuesday, the Gaskins met with medical professionals at Boston’s General Hospital for a five-hour EEG
test to determine the intensity of the seizures.

John Gaskin has suffered from the seizures for at least two years before getting a correct diagnosis late last year.

Vicky said she would have borrowed the money needed to get her son the medical treatment he needed.

However, SHS faculty, administration and students worked together to raise more than $9,100 in less than two weeks to pay for the trip and medical tests.

Vicky said the work of students to sell t-shirts emblazoned with the words “I Helped John Gaskin Fly,” along with a raffle for Black Angus steaks raised by Sardis assistant principal Wendy Gibbs, would help cover costs for the single-parent family to get the needed treatment.

Gibbs and her husband operate a cattle auction barn in Arab and grow their own Black Angus cattle near Altoona. Gibbs helped head up the raffle by donating the steaks and getting permission to sell the tickets. She says the group of teachers originally wanted to raise about three thousand dollars, but when a student group asked if they could help by selling t-shirts and a local insurance salesman offered to match a portion of the funds, they quickly tripled their goal in 10 days.

The Gaskins flew to Boston early Tuesday morning (May 8 ) from Birmingham. It was John’s first flight. Vicky said John was a little nervous, but enjoyed the entire trip, looking out the window for most of the entire flight.

Vicky said she fears that John is thinking his seizures will be cured this week and she is concerned about how he will handle the let down from that, but at least they are seeing someone who has expertise in pediatric autism and epilepsy.

During John’s five hour EEG on Wednesday, the Gaskins were able to walk through much of the city of Boston, visiting one of the nation’s oldest open markets, the Quincy’s Open Market, as well as the old Massachusetts State House, built in 1713 to house the government offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The area beneath the balcony of that building is the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre. On that site, six years later, the Declaration of Independence was read on July 18.

Vicky said they were also able to visit the Boston Harbor, site of the Boston Tea Party and one of the city’s oldest graveyards, with headstones dating back to the 1630s.

On Thursday, the Gaskins are set to meet with Dr. Ronald Thibert, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. John Gaskin told reporters last week before the fundraising efforts were announced that Thibert “is going to help me get a test procedure on brain.”    

His mother says it could likely be the first of many visits with Thibert. He agreed to see John, although his specialty is pediatric autism. John’s age of 19 points to a growing problem with autism healthcare in the nation – many are becoming adults with autism, with few options for specialized care for the syndrome.

John’s special education teacher, Teresa Swindall said that a fund has been set up in John’s name at Liberty Bank to help with future trips to Boston for care. She says the fundraising efforts were blessed by God to have tripled their goal in less than two weeks.

Swindall said Gaskin is an exceptional student with autism. Unlike the Fox TV show’s character with autism, John is friendly, conversant and is not touch-aversive. He shows exceptional skill in the arts, able to draw characters from several of his favorite animated movies from memory, and to sing, as well.

The Gaskins are scheduled to return home this weekend, unless Dr. Thibert requests that they stay longer. Vicky wished to thank the students and faculty at Sardis High School, along with Modern Woodmen of the World Insurance Agent J.D. Holt, for their contributions of money and prayers to support her son.

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