Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Despite difficulties, families still thankful

FLORIDA KEYS -- Thanksgiving Day is here. The turkey has been bought. The television is ready for the annual Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys football games. The Black Friday newspaper advertisements scatter coffee tables in preparation for early-morning treks. With all that's going on, it's not hard to lounge around the house, fatten up on turkey and be thankful.

But for some Florida Keys families, the holiday is a tender reminder of their hardships and determination.

Kim Green recently moved to the Upper Keys with her family, which includes her 7-year-old son Taylor Bice who suffers from Type I diabetes. This disease keeps Taylor hooked to an insulin pump 24 hours a day. He cannot participate in most physical activities for fear the pump could get torn out.

Green said Taylor's sugar has to be checked eight to 10 times a day whether by her or his teacher.

Her son doesn't yet know that his disease is permanent, Green said.

"He doesn't understand it's for the rest of his life," she said. "He doesn't want to be diabetic. He wants to be like the other kids."

The Key Largo School student was able to dodge spending his lunch hour alone with the school nurse when his teacher agreed to administer insulin shots as needed.

For Green and her family, the holiday isn't necessarily a festive one.

"Thanksgiving is kind of simple for us, all of the food has to be prebaked, no homemade pies or anything like other families," she said. "They're still moments we get depressed."

Taylor is able to ride his bike and he has had an opportunity to hunt.

"He stays as active as he can," she said.

Green said there are many other families in the Florida Keys facing similar challenges. This prompted her to convince the Key Largo School to have a "Denim Day" on Monday, Nov. 26, where for the cost of one dollar, students can wear denim instead of their usual school uniform. The money raised would go to a diabetes foundation.

Islamorada fishing guide and gallery owner Gary Ellis has watched daughter Nicole grow much older than physicians had once predicted. His daughter has suffered since birth from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that attacks the lungs, hindering the circulatory system.

Inspired to take action, Ellis launched the Redbone fishing tournament series 26 years ago to "catch a cure," and this past year it raised more than $1 million for the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Nicole, now 28, has a college degree and corporate job in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Time is of the essence for us at this point," her father said.

With doctors now estimating the average life span of a cystic fibrosis patient to be 37, Gary Ellis says the holidays are important family time.

"Every year Thanksgiving is a bit more special of an event," he said.

Ellis said his daughter undergoes many weeks of in-patient treatment each year, including a two-week hospital stint scheduled after Thanksgiving, when she will be forced to file her work from a computer.

"She's unbelievably upbeat," Ellis said. "There's new drugs, new therapies, new hope all the time."

Like Kim Green, Ellis points out that his daughter's struggles are not unique, and that most families are faced with their own particular challenges at one time or another.

"Everyone has a lot to be thankful for," he said.

A Ramrod Key couple has been spending the past week in a Key West motel after their home, along with a motorcycle, recreation vehicle and boat, went up in flames. The house was insured, but the couple cannot replace their belongings that had sentimental value.

John and Lisa Sauder had already purchased their Thanksgiving turkey in preparation for their holiday meal when the fire claimed their home.

"Well, our turkey was cooked," John Sauder joked a few days after the fire, trying to lighten the mood. "It was pressure cooked."

The two were awakened in the early morning hours of Nov. 12 by a neighbor who saw the fire. Sauder said he was lucky to escape the flames that engulfed his home within minutes.

He said the American Red Cross arrived the night of the fire, providing the couple a small stipend and paying for medicine at the pharmacy.

The Sauders plan on spending their Thanksgiving with family in St. Petersburg, where they hope to meet with their insurance provider. The two owned a mobile welding business and would like to open a shop in Cudjoe Key to pay the bills.

"It's rough," Sauder said. "Just like everybody else, we have to keep going."

Sauder said he endured some burns on the back he didn't realize until hours later. He said the community's support has provided solace.

"The neighbors down here have been so helpful," he said. "We are really thankful."

Neighbors have set up a Fire Benefit Fund for the Sauders at Centennial Bank in Big Pine Key. Those interested can drop off cash and checks or call in a donation at (305) 676-3071 and mention the Sauders' account.

jgore@keysnews.com

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