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Aurora -- John Chartier of Mantua was celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife, Rhonda, in the Bahamas. It turned out to be a moment to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.
A large wave struck him from behind in relatively shallow water while he was wading in the Atlantic Ocean on March 27, breaking three vertebrae in his neck and leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
He underwent emergency life-saving surgery in the Bahamas, then was flown to the Cleveland Clinic, where he spent about one month. Today, he is at a MetroHealth rehabilitation facility.
"John is showing some progress," said Rhonda, a fourth-grade teacher at Leighton Elementary School in Aurora. "He has good days and bad days, but there is hope. He is working real hard. John is probably doing better than I am. I am trying to finish the last few weeks of school."
Melisa Carlson, a Leighton teacher and friend of the family, said John undergoes intense therapy 3 to 4 hours a day, and Rhonda is with him whenever possible.
"John is grateful for whatever he is able to do," Carlson said. "Rhonda is positive and upbeat. She has a very strong faith."
John, 51, worked at Swagelok in Solon, where he was a quality technician whose job was "to check the multiple dimensions on the different valves we make," according to Jim Kalal, a friend and co-worker.
The family has two children. Brandon, 25, lives in the Ohio City area of Cleveland, while Jordyn, 22, graduated May 11 from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.
Kalal said the emergency surgery and flight left the couple more than $30,000 in debt when they arrived home with many other expenses coming soon, so fundraising events to help out the family with medical expenses have been planned.
Kalal said John "can sit up on his own in a wheelchair for less than a minute. They tried standing him up in therapy. He wants to stand up, but his body cannot handle it yet."
"They're going to try to fit his wheelchair with a joy stick [so he can maneuver the wheelchair]," he said. "He is getting some motion and some feeling back on the right side of his body, but not as much on the left side."
Kalal said John has been "upbeat" after his injury.
"He and his wife are taking it one day at a time," Kalal said. "This is a challenge God has given him. He's decided he's going to fight as hard as he can. He's got a really great attitude."
Rhonda said people at Leighton have been supportive. She said district employees have donated money, and students have given her money, flowers and "lots of hugs. Everyone has been very kind. This community is so generous. I am so blessed and humbled."
Roseland Lanes at 26383 Broadway Ave., Oakwood Village, will host an evening of bowling with live music, food, beverages and raffle prizes May 17 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. to assist with the couple's rising medical and other costs.
Guests will receive an hour of bowling, shoe rental, slice of pizza, soda and raffle ticket for $15, with $8 of each ticket benefitting Chartier. Guests who would like to attend the event in support of the Chartiers but do not plan to bowl will be charged $6 for each entry. A cash bar will be open for the event.
In addition to bowling, guests may participate in a cornhole tournament, free massages, a reverse raffle, silent and Chinese auctions, karaoke and live music from the Atomic Coyotes, who have donated their time for the event.
Raffle and auction prizes include tickets to the Indianapolis 500, four club seats to a Cleveland Indians game, a signed Indians baseball, a signed Jason Giambi picture, a round of golf for four at Barrington Golf Club with lunch included, a $100 gift certificate for Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, a $50 gift certificate for Lager & Vine and five bottles of wine from Lager and Vine.
Money raised from the event and auctions listed above, aside from the cover charge and cash bar, will be donated to the Chartiers to help pay for their medical expenses.
Attendees can learn more and RSVP in advance by joining the benefit's Facebook event site at www.facebook.com/events/472509122824584/
More information can be found on the organization's "You Caring" website at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/friends-of-the-chartiers/52459, where Kalal said donations can be made.
Interested donors who cannot attend the event may also contribute via cash or checks made out to the Friends of the Chartiers, a group that is collecting donations for the family, c/o Fifth Third Bank, 8901 Darrow Road, Twinsburg 44087, and also at any Fifth Third Bank in the name of Friends of the Chartiers. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corporate donors may partner with Roseland Lanes to sponsor a lane for $250, $500 or $1,000 for extended periods of time to
benefit the couple. Donors will receive a tax-deductible receipt. For more information, call Roseland Lanes at 440-232-5444.
Meanwhile, on May 29, customers who bring in a flier to El Camino Restaurant, 395 N. Aurora Road, Aurora, will have 20 percent of their bill donated to the Friends of the Cartiers. Fliers to be used at the restaurant can be obtained at Roseland Lanes on May 17.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187