Laura and Jake are home for the holidays

DOWNEY - Rancho patient Laura Bonsell wheeled her wheelchair out of her hospital room and asked Santa for a simple holiday wish-to be home for Christmas. Jake Velasquez inspired hundreds of Rancho patients and staff and even artists from the LA Opera when he sang along as they performed holiday carols.In the last two weeks more than 60,000 people read the stories of these amazing young Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center patients in the online edition of The Downey Patriot, making these the two most-read stories in the newspaper's 11-year history. This week, each of these very special young people were involved in holiday magic that raised their hope for the holidays.

Laura's Christmas Dream Santa's first Rancho appearance of the year on December 3, made with the Assisteens holiday carolers, set the stage for Laura to bring the meaning of the holiday season to life with her simple Christmas wish. After Santa visited her room, the excited 22-year-old came rolling out into the hallway, took a deep breath, looked Santa right in the eye and made her simple holiday wish: "Santa...all I want this year is to go home for Christmas, she said." The Assisteens, their advisors, Santa and even the nursing staff were all choked up by Laura's emotional Christmas wish. Rancho's Pediatrics Department Chief Dr. Luis Montes later said that Santa had spoken to him about Laura, and Dr. Montes promised Santa that Rancho's clinical team would do everything they could to get Laura home before Christmas. Last week, Santa sent flowers to Laura's Rancho hospital room along with a note telling her that she was in his thoughts and that he was working on her holiday wish. Then last Saturday, a true Rancho miracle occurred that reverberated all the way to the North Pole when Laura returned home for the holidays! "I promised Santa that we would have Laura home for Christmas, and we made sure her wish came true," Dr. Montes said. "Now she is at home, sharing a most memorable holiday season with those who love her most."

Jake's Joyful Journey A 6-year-old little angel in a power wheelchair stole the hearts of LA Opera artists and their audiences during two special holiday performances at Rancho on December 5. Jake's determination to sing along with the stars touched the hearts of the hundreds of Rancho patients and employees who attended the two special performances, to say nothing of the LA Opera carolers. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said LA Opera's brilliant soprano Karen Hogle Brown. "That incredible boy was singing along with every one of our carols, and he had such a beautiful smile on his face each time we finished a song." Jake came to Rancho October 9 after being critically injured in a horrific rollover automobile accident. His injuries were so severe that he stopped breathing and had to be revived by paramedics. Jake suffered a major spinal cord injury that left him with quadriplegia. At Rancho, Jake learned how to maneuver a power wheelchair and regained his ability to draw and paint despite a lack of fine motor control that prevented him from picking up objects. Jake progressed dramatically at Rancho. He quickly regained enough strength for his clinicians to discard the "halo" device that protected him after his devastating injury. He has also been weaned off his ventilator for up to eight hours. Today, Jake completes his inpatient rehabilitation at Rancho and is returning home to Bloomington in San Bernardino County. He will get to enjoy Christmas with his family, where his incredible smile, loving spirit and boundless enthusiasm will warm the hearts of those he loves most. Rancho Recreation Therapist Julie Helgren traveled to Bloomington to meet with teachers and administrators at Jake's elementary school to clear the way for his return to the classroom. "Like everyone who knows him, the students and adults at his school love Jake," Julie said. "It was the best school visit I have had in my 29 years at Rancho." Jake will be returning to school with his class on January 7, which completes his return to the community. In less than 3 months from the day he was rolled into Rancho with a halo on his head, this little angel will have created his own Rancho miracle! "Laura and Jake have done more than make remarkable recoveries here at Rancho," Julie said. "They have brought the Spirit of Christmas to life in a way that has melted the hearts of many, many people this holiday season. In their own special fashion, each of these great kids have made the season of giving a lot more meaningful for everyone whose lives they have touched." "On behalf of Laura and Jake, and all those at Rancho who worked so hard to make their Christmas miracles happen, we wish all our friends in the community an especially Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year," Dr. Montes said. "As you ponder your New Year's resolutions for 2013, dream big and always remember that if Laura and Jake can make their dreams come true, you can, too!"

********** Published: December 20, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 36