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Jim Kenyon: Checking in at year’s end

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 1/3/2021 11:12:51 AM
Modified: 1/3/2021 11:12:47 AM

Before we get too far into 2021, I wanted to check in with a few people who I wrote about last year to see how they’re doing.

In the good news department, Oxbow High School senior Sierra Longmoore is back home in Newbury, Vt., after suffering a life-threatening head injury in a one-car crash as she was driving to her babysitting job shortly before 8 a.m. on July 8.

“She’s throwing softballs with her sister, throwing footballs with her dad and running around with the dogs,” her mother, Amy, told me last week. “It’s pretty amazing when you think where she was a few months ago.”

Sierra, who was wearing a seatbelt, apparently lost control of her family’s SUV on a sharp turn on Snake Road — a shortcut to Route 5 from the Longmoores’ home near the Bradford-Newbury line — and hit a tree. Two neighbors, who rushed to the scene after hearing the crash, found Sierra unconscious, still in the driver’s seat of the overturned vehicle.

She spent a month at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was placed in a medically induced coma. Even after she emerged from the coma, her prognosis remained iffy.

Sierra still wasn’t speaking when she was transferred in mid-August to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston to begin physical, speech and occupational therapy. Amy and Steven Longmoore took turns staying at their daughter’s side during her eight weeks in Boston.

When Sierra returned home in October, she could see how people had been pulling for her recovery. “#SierraStrong” yard signs dotted front lawns along Route 5 from Fairlee to Bradford.

Last week when we talked by phone, Sierra said she was taken aback by the outpouring of support from folks that she didn’t know. “It provides me with inspiration,” she said.

Now Sierra wants to be an inspiration to other teens who are dealing with life-altering accidents. After hearing about their stories through social media, Sierra “sends them cards and words of encouragement,” her mother said. “She wants to help people who are going through what she went through.”

On a recent visit to DHMC, where she undergoes weekly physical therapy to improve her coordination and endurance, Sierra met a teenager who was struggling in his recovery from a serious fall. After hearing Sierra’s story, the boy “walked more that day than he had ever walked” during a therapy session, his mother told Amy Longmoore.

Sierra, who celebrated her 18th birthday a few weeks ago with her twin, Aspen, is back studying — remotely — at Oxbow. She’s on schedule to graduate with her class in June.

Jenny Coombs and her son, Nick, continue to turn their homemade natural dog biscuits into gas money for people battling cancer.

Shortly before Christmas, Jenny Coombs handed over $600 in gas cards for social workers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center to give to patients and their families in need. (The Eclipse Float Center, a Claremont health spa, also contributed $350 to the cause.)

Coombs, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago. Sitting in the cancer center’s waiting area, she heard the stories of other patients, some of whom traveled several hours for treatment and struggled to come up with gas money.

That’s when Coombs and her adult son, who is disabled, went to work in the kitchen of the family’s home in Claremont.

She pours the key ingredients — natural peanut butter, raw honey and King Arthur whole wheat flour — into a bowl. From there, Nick takes over. “He’s always loved to stir,” Coombs said.

Nick suffers from a rare condition — so rare that it doesn’t have a name — that stunted his growth, among other things. When I saw him in February, he weighed 63 pounds and stood 4 feet, 4 inches tall.

At 27, he takes weekly horseback riding lessons and dons a white chef’s hat when his mother says it’s time to start another batch of biscuits, which are sold at Claremont’s Tremont House of Pizza and Leo’s Market. They’re also available through Facebook messaging by searching “Janette Coombs The Elf Shelf.”

While she’s raising money to help other DHMC cancer patients, Coombs is undergoing immunotherapy treatments to keep her cancer at bay. “I’m doing everything I can to stay active and positive,” she said.

In March, Teresa and Eric Bauernschmidt, who are both health care professionals at DHMC, found themselves stranded in Haiti when the small Caribbean country abruptly closed its two international airports due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

After a few stressful days and with the help of elected officials — from state Rep. Zachariah Ralph, of Hartland, to Vermont’s congressional delegation — the West Windsor couple made it home.

Now they can’t wait to go back.

The Bauernschmidts are in the process of adopting three boys— brothers, ages 8, 5 and 3 — from an orphanage in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The couple flew to Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince just before the pandemic hit to meet the boys for the first time.

They recently received word that a Haitian court had approved the adoptions. Now it’s just a matter of getting the boys’ travel papers in order and receiving the OK to pick them up. “We are slowly plugging along, and we’re hoping to get them home by spring,” Teresa Bauernschmidt said.

Last week, I wrote about Mohsen Mahdawi, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. My recounting of Jewish history was incorrect in a reference to Theodor Herzl. I should have written, as a reader aptly pointed out, that Herzl, who died in 1904, was among the first people to see that Jews needed their own homeland.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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