SANGER – A Father’s Day that began like any other changed the course of one Sanger family’s life.
When Brandon Petrille checked his wife’s location on June 18, wondering why it was taking her longer than usual to pick up dinner, and saw that there was a collision along the road the car was on, he hadn’t imagined that she was involved. Yet she was, and since that day he has spent every possible moment by his wife’s side in the hospital, his sister Briana Petrille said.
“Immediately from the moment I got the phone call to now, it just feels like we’re living in a movie, like everything that’s happening is just not true or not actually happening,” Briana said. “You never expect that something like that is going to happen.”
Georgina Garcia Petrille, whose family calls her Gina, was driving between her home in Sanger and Sal’s Mexican Restaurant in Selma when another vehicle ran a red light and hit her at 80 miles per hour. After being airlifted to Fresno Community Hospital, she remained in a coma in the intensive care unit for nearly a month; her family found out she was transferred from the ICU on July 12, and on July 13 they learned that Gina would be moved to the NeuroRestorative rehabilitation center on July 17.
The collision occurred along Bethel Avenue near Manning Avenue, northeast of Selma. Briana said the family has not received the full accident report yet, but the California Highway Patrol told them Gina was almost through an intersection when her vehicle was hit. She ended up in a nearby field, her car demolished to the point it was unrecognizable.
The impact of the crash put Gina into a coma and she suffered multiple strokes at the scene as well. Her lumbar 1-4 were fractured, both sides of her pelvis were shattered, her spleen was removed and she had to receive a craniotomy to relieve swelling in her brain.
As of July 13, Gina was able to open her eyes, respond to some questions by nodding and shaking her head, squeeze hands, move her feet and work with physical therapists to sit up; however, the doctors are unsure of the extent of her brain damage because she was deprived of oxygen for an unknown period of time after the accident. Briana said it took a little more than an hour from the estimated time of the crash to when Brandon received a call from the hospital.
“We don’t really know how bad the brain damage is because she hasn’t talked and because we don’t know how well she can see and everything; we just don’t know the extent of it,” Briana said. “(The doctors) said it takes time. She still has a lot of brain swelling. … It’s a very slow process.”
Briana said that doctors first told their family her recovery could go two ways: either she’d go to “step down,” which is the intermediate care unit between the ICU and general medical ward and then move on to rehab, or she would have to live in a facility home for the rest of her life.
“Because she’s following all of these commands that they’re telling her to do, I think that it’s looking a lot more like the recovery and rehab route — I hope — but it’s definitely looking a lot better than the other (option),” Briana said.
Although Gina still was not verbal as of July 13, the planned move to NeuroRestorative showed good progress, Briana said.
Briana described their family as very tight-knit. They had all been together just a few days prior to the accident to celebrate Gina and Brandon’s oldest daughter’s birthday, which made the situation all the more surreal when it happened, she said.
“We always show up for each other,” Briana said. “Especially once everything happened and we got the phone call, everybody went to the hospital. Even though none of us could really get in, we all still went. We were out there waiting to hear some news because we’re just always, any little thing, we’re always together.”
Brandon and Gina have been together for about seven years and have three daughters: 5-year-old Aubrey, 3-year-old Liliana and 1-year-old Karleigh.
Briana said that Brandon is at the hospital every day, from start to finish of visiting hours, and is taking everything especially hard. “As soon as he comes home, you can tell he looks terrible and he doesn’t sleep very much, he doesn’t really eat,” she said.
Gina and Brandon are very much in love, Briana said. Brandon knows that one of Gina’s favorite qualities about herself is her long, black hair, and so when doctors shaved about half of her head for the craniotomy, Brandon shaved his as well.
“She wasn’t awake at that point yet, her eyes weren’t open, but the day that that happened, he came home and he shaved his head, so that when she does open her eyes, he didn’t want her to feel ugly or alone or anything like that,” Briana said. “ Which to me, and my mom especially, we just really thought that it was very romantic.”
Brandon works in a director position at the Chick-fil-A on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno while Gina has been a stay-at-home mom, tending to their childrens’ every need. Gina received her associate’s degree in biological sciences from Reedley College last year and was waiting to see if she was accepted to a nursing program, as she wanted to become a labor and delivery nurse.
Ever since the accident, Briana and her mom have been helping Brandon take care of the kids, so much so that they haven’t been sleeping at their own house. It has given them all extra appreciation for what Gina was doing, and Briana said that they’ve “always known that they’re not the easiest kids to watch, … but we didn’t realize just how hard it is until we had to do it.”
Briana and the rest of her family describe Gina as an incredible mom, who knows exactly what her kids need, knows every little detail about each daughter and can calm each one down in their own way.
Although the kids are hanging in there, they don’t really understand what’s happening. Briana said it’s extremely hard because her and her mom can’t deal with their own emotions and process what happened because they have to focus on the kids.
“All they know is that their mom went to go get some food and never came back,” Briana said. “We told the oldest one eventually … that mommy’s at the doctor, and she’ll be coming home soon, and she keeps saying, ‘how many more days until mommy comes home from the doctor?’ She keeps asking those questions.”
They don’t have any good answers for when Gina may get to come home, if ever, or what her life would look like if she can. Briana said that the doctors have told them it could even take six months for Gina’s brain swelling to go down enough to allow them to replace the part of her skull they removed.
“What do you say to them (the kids), how do you comfort them in that time when you really don’t know what to say?” Briana said.
The family has organized a GoFundMe with a $50,000 goal to help relieve some of the stress and financial pressure they are feeling “because of how catastrophic this whole thing is,” Briana said. The fundraiser immediately received a lot more attention than she thought it would, and as of July 13 has raised just over $17,000.
Briana said that they intend to use all the money for medical expenses, but if they have anything left over after seeing how much insurance covers, they’re also hoping they will be able to put that toward childcare. Briana is currently a college student and her mom is a teacher, so once the summer is over, they won’t be able to provide full-time care for the kids anymore.
They find out something good about Gina’s condition every day, but the road to recovery is still long and difficult, Briana said.
“(Brandon and Gina) have such a beautiful little family and it’s just very sad,” Briana said. “We’re just hoping that she’ll be able to be OK again.”