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Community helping injured mom

An older family photo shows a smiling Rachelle Hardie, center, with her daughter, Morgan, right, and son Dylan.

Courtesy of Andrew Thomas
Published: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.

Friends, family and community members are coming together to help Rachelle Hardie, an active Petaluma mother of two and emergency room nurse, who recently suffered a spinal cord injury that has left her paralyzed from the waist down.

On Oct. 11, a herniated disc ruptured unexpectedly in Hardie's upper back, requiring a five-hour spinal surgery. She is currently recuperating at a spinal rehabilitation facility.

Hardie, described by her ex-husband Andrew Thomas as “strong, self-reliant, and an all-round good person,” is doing well but will require a wheelchair to get around.

Thomas said Hardie “is in good spirits” despite the life-changing event. Being a nurse at the trauma center at San Francisco General Hospital, Hardie knows better than the average person what she's facing, he said.

But they were both surprised, he said, by how little coverage was available following such an injury, despite Hardie's health insurance policy.

“There's no real transitional phase” to coming home, he said.

Hardie's insurance stipulates that she must return home on Nov. 15, just a little over a month after her injury, even though her Liberty Street home is not wheelchair accessible. So friends, family, and neighbors are racing to remodel the home before she returns — and they hope it will be at minimal cost to Hardie.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, three teens who know Rachelle's teenage daughter organized a treat stand to raise funds for Hardie. Using Facebook to advertise their homemade delicacies, Jackie Buzard,17, Dorothy Buzard, 15, and Kennedy Kreger, 14, raised nearly $1,800 with help from their parents and the community.

This isn't the first time the teens have organized such an event: They also held fundraising lemonade stands and bake sales when Petaluma High track star Danny Cox was paralyzed and when Petaluma Junior High Little League player Trevor Smith died this summer.

“These are kids using Facebook for the right reasons,” said Patty Buzard, mother of Jackie and Dorothy.

The youths' actions helped inspire several local businesses to pitch in: Ohana Construction was moved to offer carpentry and materials needed for the remodel. Golden State Lumber, in turn, offered to provide materials needed for the ramp into Hardie's home at cost, and Rex Ace Hardware is donating materials for the bathroom remodel, like trim and fixtures. Buzard's husband Mike Buzard, a contractor, is also donating his services.

In addition, one of Hardie's close friends, Daria Pavliger, a design major, is using her skills to design the new bathroom. Others are taking time off work to pitch in with the construction.

“It's really just a coming together of the community,” Patty Buzard said, adding that it is a bit like a homespun version of the television show “Extreme Home Makeover.”

The changes needed to enable Hardie to be independent in her own home are extensive, Buzard said. A long ramp needs to be built to the front door, the sidewalk must be altered so that she can pull up and exit from her car in a wheelchair, the doorway to the bathroom has to be widened, and the shower and toilet must be altered, among other things.

“I just feel like we've got a giant clock ticking,” said Pavliger. On Tuesday, she was headed to Hardie's house to empty the bathroom so that construction could start later that day.

Pavliger added that Martial Arts USA, where she and Hardie took kickboxing classes, will offer a fundraising class and brunch for Hardie on Nov. 17.

“I told Rachelle to come to the class, saying, ‘just because you're paralyzed doesn't mean you can't box,” Pavliger said, adding that humor has been a key part of Hardie's recovery.

“Whenever we're together we're laughing,” she said. “I'm so humbled by her spirit.”

Pavliger described her friend as a wonderful mom, adding that many of Hardie's coworkers were coming to see her in the hospital.

Pavliger acknowledged that it was daunting to think of everything Hardie would have to learn to do for herself. But, she said, “A lot of people are doing a lot of good things.”

Thomas said he is heartened to see the outpouring of help. He added that part of why he moved to Petaluma was to give his children a small town feeling — one they were currently experiencing firsthand.

Friends and family are still seeking donations and other forms of assistance with the remodel.

Anyone wishing to donate can send or drop off a check or cash at Volpi's Ristorante, 124 Washington St. Checks can be made payable to Rachelle Hardie.

To sign up for the Martial Arts USA class and brunch on Nov. 17, call 769-4745.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com.)

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