SPRING HILL — One good deed begets another. So learned the family of 9-year-old Alexis Corey, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy and must use a wheelchair.
The girl's mother, Amanda Gallardo, had been staging yard sales to raise money for the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van for the family. Friends and neighbors donated items to keep the yard sales going.
"From there, it's just blossomed and grown," Gallardo, 29, said recently, with a nod to the used but spiffy Econoline in the driveway.
Andrew Williams, manager of MedFleet, which has ambulance stations in Brooksville and New Port Richey, got word that Gallardo was struggling to lift her daughter and chair in and out of their well-worn 1999 Suburban.
"I had a Suburban, and I know how hard it would be. And the child's going to get bigger and heavier," Williams said.
"We had one vehicle ready for replacement," Williams said of MedFleet, a family-owned company that has provided ambulance services for 41 years. He referred to a 2006 Econoline E250. the standard for a wheelchair transport fleet.
MedFleet's owners decided to donate the van to the family, which includes father Chris Corey, 33, and a 4-year-old boy, Charlie. Williams wanted to make it a first-rate gift.
He asked George's Wholesale Tires, a MedFleet supplier in New Port Richey, "to go through it, head to toe, to make sure it's in good working order."
The company did so, putting on four new BFGoodrich tires, valued at $800, and promising a year's worth of oil changes — all free.
Williams called on Hudson's Hi-Tech Collision Centers, which performs body work for MedFleet, "to make sure it looked good."
"We took all the stripes and decals off, painted it, repaired it, did some refurbishing, and a striper put a graphic design on the vehicle," assistant manager Marlene Wimberly said.
Hi-Tech gleaned the donation of a bench seat to accommodate Charlie in the back of the van from Pasco Auto Salvage of Hudson and installed new wheelchair securements donated by Mobility Works of Akron, Ohio.
"We help people out daily, but not on that level," Hi-Tech owner Dan McCorry said. "We paid our help, but a lot of people gave their time. We've got a great crew here, with heart."
McCorry valued the work at $7,000 to $8,000, adding, "That's nothing to what MedFleet donated."
With delivery of the van to the Gallardo-Corey family in late April, Gallardo said, "I look outside just to make sure it is still there because I feel like I've been dreaming. I can't tell you how much backache it has saved us."
Alexis was "a normal, healthy kid" when at age 7 she came down with a fever, fatigue and droopy behavior, her mother said. During the night, her father "heard something weird" and went to the child's room. "She was having her first seizure," Gallardo said.
After a brief stop at Oak Hill Hospital, Alexis was quickly transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where she remained in a medically induced coma for more than four months in an effort to overcome the seizures associated with the diagnosis: febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome.
Later, she was transferred to Miami Children's Hospital for another month's stay.
"She stopped breathing when she had the seizures, so she has a lot of brain damage," Gallardo said. "She can't walk and can say only a few words. She's aware mentally. She knows what's going on, but she can't verbalize and can't make her wants known. She will nod appropriate responses. I think she feels trapped in her own body."
The girl is on waiting lists for rehabilitation services, but not many places accept children, her mother said.
Alexis requires 24-hour care, provided by her mother. Her father is employed at the Walmart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor.
Meanwhile, aid continues to be offered, most recently with a fundraising jam and raffle at Rookies 19 Sports Bar & Grill on Commercial Way.
"Our next mission," Gallardo said, "is to get the bathroom converted for a wheelchair."
Contact Beth Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.