As more people came to understand a young Clarence young woman’s struggle with a devastating spinal cord injury, help began to flood in to cover the expense of her care.
They brought checks, offered art to sell, loaned a week’s stay in a vacation house in Aruba for auction, donated items for 600 gift baskets, donated sheets of pizza and baked desserts.
So many contributions came through that the benefit for Helen Lumia grew too big for the fire hall where it was orginally to be held. Instead, about 1,000 $20 tickets have sold for the celebration today from 1 to 5 p.m. at Clarence High School to help raise money to modify the family home and pay for 24-hour care.
“To say, ‘unbelievable’ would be an understatement. I have been picking up donations from all over Western New York. The outpour gives you goosebumps,” said Kate Tolley, a friend of Lumia’s who has been on the benefit organizing committee. “People who don’t even know her want to give. It’s just a beautiful thing.”
Lumia, 22, a high school lacrosse and basketball player, became a quadriplegic after surgery on a spinal cord cyst last June. It was discovered about month after she graduated with an art degree from Alfred University and showed her glass work in a senior exhibit.
Before she was hospitalized, Lumia planned to devote her life to art. She had set up an internship with a glassblower and eventually planned to move to New York City.
Instead, her paralysis led her to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, a specialist in spinal cord injuries. There, Lumia learned how to paint holding a brush in her mouth. She returned home in February and has been living in her parents’ home with her hospital bed and ventilator set up in the dining room.
Tolley has long admired her friend’s outgoing athletic approach to life and hopes Lumia’s injury will improve some.
“She is one of those people who tries everything. … She always wanted to experiment and try new things. She was never afraid,” Tolley said. “I don’t believe this is the end. … I believe this is the beginning of starting to rehabilitate.”
Joe Floss, another organizer, said he got to know the Lumia family beause his family cars get repaired by Lumia’s father, owner of Steve Lumia’s Auto & Truck Repair. He joined the benefit committee of 20 after Tolley and her cousin and aunt, Taunya and Gail Englert, began organizing about two months ago.
A member of the local Rotary Club, he has gone to meetings with Lumia’s younger sister Janine, who uses a Power Point presentation to explain her sister’s condition.
“I’m really proud of that kid,” said Floss, owner of an insurance company. “Somebody had to be their voice.”
Lumia, who would like to connect with the local arts community and start making art again, may attend part of the benefit later in the afternoon.
“Frankly, we’re hoping we’re taking her to Brennan’s afterwards for a beer,” said Floss. “It’s entirely up to her, how she’s feeling.”