A community bands together

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Katie O’Neill

“When something happens to someone in your community, when you live in a small town, you band together and do what you can,” said Rebecca Lobo on NBC News Connecticut.

Rebecca was referring to Katherine “Katie” O’Neill, 10-year-old Granby resident who was seriously injured over the long Presidents’ Day weekend when a dead tree fell on her as she was walking with a group (including her brother, PJ) in the McLean Game Refuge. One of the adults in the group called 911 and Lifestar was dispatched from Hartford Hospital in just minutes. Katie had surgery at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center that day to treat several broken bones in her hand, arm, and leg. More seriously, Katie was placed in a medically induced coma following surgery on her skull which was necessary to relieve swelling on the brain. The first 72 hours were the most crucial, and Katie’s family braced themselves.

The Granby community braced itself as well. Word about the accident quickly spread on social media and from television news coverage. Empathy poured out from countless families in town – and people demonstrated their concern in so many creative and wonderful ways.

On the Monday before Katie’s accident, her travel basketball team participated in a tournament in Bristol. Their first playoff game was held on Friday while Katie was in ICU struggling through those moments after surgery. The game was played at the Granby Memorial High School against East Granby and it became the perfect venue for the community to show support for the O’Neill family.

One family of Katie’s teammates created two “Playing for Katie” banners. They hung one behind the players’ bench and asked players and spectators to sign the other. Another family made #KatieStrong t-shirts and others came together to organize a bake sale fundraiser. Grass Roots Ice Cream in Granby set up a portable freezer and donated all sales to the family. The high school teams wore Katie Strong warm up jerseys for their basketball games and many stayed to watch Katie’s team play. NBC Connecticut covered the event on television, which helped attract hundreds of fans to game – including local celebrity Rebecca Lobo.

Submitted photo

The banner, covered with hundreds of signatures in support of Katie’s recovery.

After the game, parents took the “Playing for Katie” banner to other local basketball travel games so players and fans could sign it. Now filled with hundreds of signatures (including Lobo’s), the banner hangs in Katie’s hospital room– and was one of the first things she saw when she came out of her coma. It serves as a focal point for young Katie as she bravely navigates the long road of her recovery.

Other support has included meals by Alicia Newton, local nutritionist and creator of the non-profit Nourish My Soul and What’s Cookin’ Jr. Chef classes, as well as a “meal train” that has been set up to help the family over the next weeks and months. In all, the community has raised more than $25,000 through a GoFundMe account and other fundraisers which will help the family with medical bills and other expenses that the family will face as Katie recovers.

In addition to being a talented basketball player, Katie is an astute tae kwon do student preparing to test for her black belt. Clearly, she is strong in spirit and mind – and soon will be strong in body once again. As she heals, and is hopeful to be home before Easter, her family is lifted by the love and support of their small, tight-knit community – and knowing so many people are right there with them, “playing for Katie” all the way.