Haliburton welcomes Sadie home
By Sue Tiffin
*Includes update at end of story.
On Sunday morning, when the Lakeside Church service began an online broadcast, encouragement for Sadie Lester in the form of a song was shared between the Lakeside Church community and broader community of Haliburton County.
“Hi Sadie, I heard this was your favourite song, I hope it puts a smile on your face, we love you,” said Janis Prins, before she and a chorus of children recorded separately in their homes, practicing physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, came together to sing Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child.
Six-year-old Sadie and her mom, Lindsay, have been identified by their family as being the Haliburton residents attacked by two Saint Bernard dogs while out walking shortly before 4 p.m. on Gainforth Road on Easter Sunday, April 12. Lindsay’s injuries, including back and arm trauma, were listed as non-life threatening, while Sadie’s injuries were identified as being extensive, and she was flown by Ornge air ambulance to SickKids with critical injuries. The animals have been placed in quarantine by order of the health unit.
AJ Lester, dad to Sadie and husband to Lindsay, posted to his social media page as Sadie and her mom were en route to SickKids, requesting prayers for Sadie prior to her undergoing four-and-a-half hours of surgery requiring hundreds of stitches due to the attack, and also for Lindsay, who he said in a later post he saw as “being the hero who God did a miracle through by throwing herself onto Sadie and saving her life.”
The online prayers quickly translated to action by family, friends, and also complete strangers around the world as they made efforts to help Sadie while her family stayed at her bedside last week. AJ’s online posts were seen by Donna Smith, who lives in Bobcaygeon, and who recognized her own daughter’s downtown Toronto apartment building in a photo of Sadie looking out the window of her room at SickKids. Soon, a sign could be seen in Shannon Berseth’s window showing support to Sadie whenever the girl looked outside.
“The sign was [mom’s] idea,” said Berseth, “My supplies were limited. I didn’t really have any paper other than notebooks I’m using to work from home right now ... but managed to make do with wrapping paper and a Sharpie!”
(A photo of Toronto resident Shannon Berseth's sign to Sadie, across the way at SickKids, from inside her apartment / photo submitted by Shannon Berseth)
Tiffany Prentice, who is friends with the Lesters through the Lakeside Church community, recognized an immediate need for help for the family because of her family’s own experience going through an emergency airlift for medical help three years ago for her stepson, and offered the Lesters hundreds of dollars in pre-paid VISA gift cards for gas and parking with funds raised with help from her family and friends.
“My heart was breaking and I had to do something,” said Prentice.
On April 17, word came that Sadie would be able to return home between hospital visits and further treatment, and friends and family were invited to line Gainforth Road to welcome the Lesters home, with directions to stay in vehicles and apart from each other as per physical distancing recommendations.
(A showing of support for Sadie Lester lined her route to welcome the six-year-old girl and her family home to Haliburton on April 17 / photo submitted by Tiffany Prentice)
News quickly spread of the community effort to be present for Sadie’s return, and Prentice said there were at least 100 people clapping, cheering and celebrating from their cars, lining up at 3 p.m. for the 5:30 arrival of the family – “it ended up we covered the entire street,” she said – as the Lesters turned onto the road.
“I think they had a lot of healing from that and I’m glad that we all made it possible for them,” said Prentice. “Everybody really took on Sadie as their own when they heard about the accident, especially with us all in isolation and whatnot, everybody really focused on it. Our community really bands together when anybody gets hurt.”
(Haliburton County residents hung signs around the community, and decorated their front windows and mailboxes, to show support for Sadie Lester. Many used supplies they had around their house, as physical distancing prevented them from running out to the store for materials. / photo submitted by Tiffany Prentice)
Prentice said despite the incident being a tragic one, because people are home from work and school at this time, they had time to be there for Sadie and make her return special and positive.
“That’s what I think our community’s biggest focus was on.”
AJ said extended family in Newmarket had also gathered in a group with signs, as well as “a good friend in a unicorn costume at the bottom of Hwy 404” as the family returned home.
“The welcome back into Haliburton was beyond anything we could ever imagine,” he said in a post that evening. “I truly can’t thank you all enough from Lindsay, Sadie, Addi and I. This community has banded together and have shown us what a real community is. The line of cars, the people holding signs, the police cruisers, the fire department and fire truck and the many gifts left at our home. I’m sorry we couldn’t stop and thank you each personally. We wanted to but we are extra protective right now. Just know you are all so special to us, your time and effort means the world to my family and Sadie was beaming ear to ear. She said she’s famous. You gave a little girl who’s going through hell on earth a huge gift today. Thank you so much.”
(Sadie Lester is recovering after being injured by two dogs near her Haliburton home on April 12. / photo from a GoFundMe page in place for Sadie Lester and her family)
AJ has acknowledged that although the family is home, Sadie will need to continue to recover, and will have surgery again in the next year as she deals with injuries that include nerve damage.
On April 20, AJ posted: “Well it’s been over a week now, it’s a roller coaster of good days, bad days, good moments, bad moments, but I know that’s the way this will play out. There are many unknowns but we are steady and confident God has us firmly in His hands and He has no plans of letting us go.”
Through his posts, he has thanked local medical staff as well as the SickKids team, the generosity of those who have reached out to help, and noted that he and Lindsay have run through the gamut of emotions but are not hateful for what has happened, because of their faith. Though he noted the tragedy has been hard on his family members in different ways, he said they will all persevere.
“Sadie is blowing us away with her strength, she truly is.”
At press time, the GoFundMe page in place for Sadie Lester and her family has reached more than $36,000, with a goal of $65,000. More details are available here: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/
Richard Ovcharovich of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit told the Echo on April 20 a public health inspector has attended the facility where the dogs are being quarantined. “We are satisfied that the quarantine is being conducted appropriately at a reputable facility and we have confirmed that both dogs are up to date on their rabies vaccination,” he said. “The reason for the quarantine is to ensure that the dogs were not positive for rabies at the time of the biting incident. Once the quarantine release inspection is conducted, the health unit’s involvement with this case will be completed. The decision to have the dogs euthanized after the quarantine release is between the animal owners and the law enforcement agencies.”
The facility does not own the dogs and is following the instructions of the authorities.
*Update (May 1): Both dogs involved have been euthanized at the request of the owners.