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Crash victim moving forward thanks to family bonds, determination

Gerry Ann Smith cinched up her face into a frown at the mention of the word. Betty Moorefield, her older sister, did the same.

“Hug her? Now why would I want to do that?” Smith said when a photographer taking their portrait suggested they move closer together.

She was joking, of course. Mostly.

Because they’re sisters, tight and bound by blood and circumstance — Smith suffered a serious brain injury nearly 42 years ago — the ladies can get away with that sort of kidding.

But in the next breath, almost in an instant, the light-hearted mood easily can flip. “Gerry is a miracle, I can promise you that,” Moorefield said. “She is a fighter.”

That comes from the tightness of the family and a tenacity of spirit that’s kept Smith overcoming obstacles since that December day in 1977 when she nearly died in a car crash in Surry County. Her recovery required months, years really, of painful, nonstop rehabilitation.

Smith’s is a story of perseverance and familial support. She’s an inspirational figure — even though she never intended to be one.

“Give up?” Smith said, repeating part of the question before answering. “Never. Mainly because my sisters wouldn’t let me.”

Loads of support

The newspaper account of the day that changed the sisters’ lives is straightforward and to the point.

WESTFIELD — Miss Gerry Ann Smith of Winston-Salem is in serious condition at Winston-Salem’s Baptist Hospital as the result of an automobile accident which occurred here Thursday.

Smith was 26, and on her way to work as a kindergarten teacher at Westfield Elementary School not far from where she grew up with her three sisters.

A trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol said Smith’s 1974 VW Beetle was broadsided by a 1969 Chevy driven by a student at East Surry High School that had skidded out of control on wet pavement. The student was cited for improper passing.

Moorefield filled out that bare-bones account. “It was teen-age boys on the wrong side of the road in a curve. They were racing, but nobody would talk about that. That road was known for that kind of playing around.”

A photograph that accompanied the newspaper story shows the entire left side of Smith’s Bug crumpled by the impact. The Chevy was resting on its side.

It took 30 minutes for members of the Pilot Mountain Rescue Squad to free the people involved. The driver of the Chevy suffered minor injuries and his younger brother, a passenger, had cuts and a fractured pelvis.

The boys would recover just fine with time, but Gerry Ann Smith’s injuries were significantly more severe and her road back would be much, much more difficult.

She spent three months in a coma, her parents and three sisters — Moorefield, Jane King and Faye Gray — near constant companions. She’d suffered a brain injury, a broken jaw and her left side was nearly paralyzed. Her short and long-term memory was affected deeply.

Still, Smith showed signs of her determination.

“When she was coming out of it, she’d hold her hand up like this,” Moorefield said, making the universal OK sign with her right hand. “When we saw that, we about fell over. … She was telling us she was going to be OK.”

But it would take a long, long while. Smith had two months of intense, daily physical therapy in the hospital and another nine in a local long-term rehabilitation facility.

When she surpassed their ability to help her, Smith moved into her own apartment along with her mom. And the rest of her immediate family pitched it to help her continue her recovery at the YMCA, where a man named Whit East worked with her in the pool nearly every day.

“He was a good man,” Smith said.

And when she had gone as far as she could in the pool, they began taking her to the Institute for the Development of Human Potential in Philadelphia to take part in a special program. “It was for kids with brain injuries, but they agreed to take Gerry when they realized how much help she would have with her family,” Moorefield said.

A small color photograph, a cherished reminder of all the hard work, lays it out. Sisters and nephews are shown standing by a small table, each helping her re-learn movements.

Moving forward

Following the deaths of their parents within a day of each other in 1981, the sisters (and their families) grew even closer.

Through moves from apartment to a small condominium and then to assisted living, Smith has had nearly daily visits from Moorefield and Gray, who has health issues of her own, and plenty to keep her busy. (King died in 2004.)

These days, Smith lives at the Brookdale Reynolda senior assisted-living center. She is 69 now, and is the first one to admit she could use a hand. Still, that’s hardly slowed her down.

She leads exercises from her chair every day, and if there’s an outing or activity, she’s smack in the middle of it all. Residents and staff members alike drift by while she and Moorefield were having a portrait taken to describe how she puts a smile on everyone’s face wherever she goes.

“If you want to reach her, you’ll have to call me,” Moorefield said. “She’s never in her room, always on the go. Which is good.”

Smith cracked upon hearing that description. She turned serious soon after when talking about all the hard work she has put into building a life she neither expected nor wanted.

All she wanted to do after graduating from Appalachian State University was to become a teacher, and that was taken from her in the blink of an eye in a car crash.

We’ve all seen news stories about terrible wrecks and heard descriptions of devastating injuries. But unless you’ve been involved in one — or know someone who has — the road to recovery can be a lonely one.

“I’m still mad about it. Real mad,” Smith said.

Moorefield shares her sister’s frustration. “She doesn’t talk about it much,” Moorefield said. “But people have no idea what she’s been through.”

Anger is one thing; self-pity another entirely. Smith allows that she still asks “Why me?” on occasion. But in the next instant she’s back at it — living, working and trying to get the best from every single day she has.

“I’m lucky to have them,” Smith said of her sisters.

The feeling is mutual.

“I can’t imagine life without her,” Moorefield said.

Just no hugging.


Local
Autism study shows promise for diagnosis

A brain-based test being researched by Wake Forest Baptist Health scientists may represent a key method for diagnosing autism.

The research team said it was able to measure the response of autistic children to different environmental cues by imaging a specific part of the brain “involved in assigning value to social interactions.”

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the research.

The findings have been published online in the journal Biological Psychology.

“Right now, a two- to four-hour session by a qualified clinician is required to diagnose autism, and ultimately it is a subjective assessment based on their experience,” said the study’s principal investigator, Kenneth Kishida. He is assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

“Our test would be a rapid, objective measurement of the brain to determine if the child responds normally to social stimulus vs. non-social stimulus, in essence a biomarker for autism.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and interaction with other people. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 60 U.S. children are autistic.

The study included 40 participants ranging in age from 6 to 18; 12 had ASD and 28 were identified as “typically developing.”

Participants were scanned in an fMRI while viewing eight images of either people or objects, each one multiple times.

Included were two self-selected pictures of a favorite person and object from each participant. The other six were standardized images of three faces and three objects, each representing pleasant, neutral or unpleasant aspects from a data base widely used in psychological experiments.

After completing the 12- to 15-minute MRI scan, the children viewed the same set of images on a computer screen and ranked them in order from pleasant to unpleasant with a self-assessing sliding scale. In addition, pairs of images were viewed and ranked as to which one they liked better.

According to the study, the average response was significantly lower in the ASD group than in the typically developing group. Kishida said that using images as a single stimulus to capture 30 seconds of fMRI data was sufficient to differentiate the groups.

“How the brain responded to these pictures is consistent with our hypothesis that the brains of children with autism do not encode the value of social exchange in the same way as typically developing children,” he said.

“We envision a test for autism in which a child could simply get into a scanner, be shown a set of pictures and within 30 seconds have an objective measurement that indicates if their brain responds normally to social stimulus and non-social stimuli.”

Kishida’s team plans to do follow-up studies to see if additional areas of the brain are involved in the different facets of the disorder to help personalize treatments.


Local
Legislature reaches bill crossover stage with budget negotiations under way

With state House and Senate budget writers engaged in compromise negotiations, the 2019 legislative session has reached the crossover stage.

It’s the time when bills that cleared one chamber weeks, if not months ago, begin the committee process in the other.

The crossover period typically commences with bills that have little to no controversy about them.

Given that there’s a high likelihood that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will veto a Republican-directed state budget not containing Medicaid expansion, the crossover period could last much longer than the typical six to eight weeks before the end of a session.

Some crossover bills will go through multiple committees, as they did in their originating chamber.

Others will be sent directly to the Rules and Operations committee, the final step before going for a floor vote.

For example, there were three Triad-related House bill assigned to Senate committees last week. They are:

Local bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.

There was also one Senate bill assigned to a House committee.

  • Senate Bill 9, a public bill that would ban female genital mutilation. The first of two steps is Health.

Stokes school board

The Stokes school board bill has the support of the board and the county commissioners, unlike Senate Bill 674, which would make the three Surry County school boards’ elections partisan over the objections of the three boards.

The Stokes school board requested the switch to partisan elections similar to the reasons cited by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in SB674 — that the political party of board members matters in how voters determine their views on education issues.

In a March 18 meeting, school board representatives told Stokes commissioners that partisan elections “makes things simpler for the citizens.”

Rep. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, said Thursday he was approached by the Stokes school board in early 2019 about the process of changing its election to partisan and from two-year to four-year terms.

“I informed them to pass a resolution requesting the legislature to make that change and provided them with a sample resolution,” Hall said. The resolution is “an effort to give voters greater transparency in those elections.”

In the minutes of the March 18 commissioners meeting, Virginia Smith, chairwoman of the Stokes Republican Party, said Hall told her that the vote on the resolution needed to be unanimous.

Commissioners approved the resolution by a 5-0 vote even though there was an effort to table the motion for the resolution.

HB517 cleared the House by voice vote April 12.

Female genital mutilation

Senate Bill 9, filed by state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, cleared the Senate floor March 25 by a 46-0 vote.

Female genital mutilation is defined as the partial or complete removal/circumcision of the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris, for nonmedical reasons. The practice is done in parts of India and northern and southern Africa as a means of controlling the sexuality of women.

It is a criminal offense in 27 states, banned in 59 countries and considered a human-rights violation by the World Health Organization.

However, a federal law banning the act was struck down in November by a federal court in Michigan, which said states should decide what they want to permit.

Krawiec said she filed the bill “because we must protect our girls from this abuse of being mutilated ... and this barbaric procedure.”

“When this issue has been brought up, most people can’t believe it’s not already illegal to do this in North Carolina,” she said.

When asked about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in North Carolina, or what counties are affected in particular, Krawiec has said she is not aware of any specific data for the state.

“We just want to make sure it never happens in North Carolina,” she said.

The bill, if passed into law, would make it a Class C felony — with a 44- to 182-month prison sentence — for someone who performs the procedure in North Carolina and for a parent, guardian or another person who consents to the procedure.

The bill would be effective Dec. 1, if it becomes law. Krawiec said the effective date would “give time for notification of the new statute to legal authorities, and give time to educate and notify medical providers of the change in statute.”

Krawiec said that ruling could prompt people who support the practice to bring underage girls to North Carolina to have the procedure done here without fear of facing a felony.

County

fire-protection tax revenues bill

The county fire-protection tax revenues bill is “specifically designed for Forsyth County even though it is a public bill,” said Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth. The bill passed the House on April 16.

The latest version of HB120 would not allow county commissioners to use fire-tax revenue “to fund a fire protection-related service or program that is furnished countywide and that is not exclusively used or provided within the district, such as a county fire marshal or an inspection, training or education program.”

The version would allow a county to use sales-and-use tax proceeds for those purposes. It also would allow commissioners to review the financial books of an incorporated nonprofit volunteer or community fire department that receives funding from the tax levy.

The consistent part of HB120 is that it would ensure that fire district tax revenue remains solely in the fire district in which it was collected.

However, the latest version eliminates using tax proceeds when combining two of three stated fire-protection options: contracting with nonprofit fire departments or the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; providing county-managed fire protection; and establishing a fire department within a fire district.

Forsyth commissioners said April 3 it was considering a resolution that would ask legislators to vote against the bill so that Forsyth and other counties can preserve their ability to provide fire-protection services.

Instead, it passed a motion by Commissioner Ted Kaplan to postpone the vote to see what legislators plan to do with the bill.

County officials have been concerned that the bill could eliminate the Forsyth supplemental staffing program that supports volunteer fire departments countywide.

Speeding tickets

With the Bermuda Run bill that cleared the House on April 16, the Davie Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction in the community, but current law doesn’t allow law-enforcement officers to write speeding tickets.

They can arrest people who break other laws in the community.

The writing of speeding tickets is allowed if the community has posted speed limit signs, which it does.

“This was just a quirk in the law that they could do everything except issue a speeding ticket,” Rep. Julia Howard said.

The Bermuda Run Town Council endorsed the bill, town manager Lee Rollins said.