Priorities fall in line when tragedy occurs

An ordinary day can begin just like any other. You wake up, wipe the sleep from your eyes and get into your daily routine. There might be some sunshine — or a little rain, but you go about your business.

You don’t think something will go wrong — until it does. You feel like someone snatched the sun out of the sky because you didn’t see anything coming. It’s even more disheartening when tragedy unfolds right in front of you and there’s little to nothing you can do.

I used to think that I couldn’t prevent or change the outcome of a bad situation if something happened to me or my family. I didn’t think I’d even know the first thing to do, but all of that recently changed. I learned — in an instant — how precious a life truly is and how quickly your priorities fall in line when you don’t have a moment to spare.

It had just gotten dark on a Wednesday night in late November. I was in my bedroom, working on a story, as I normally do. The usual roar of cars whizzing by my window was in the background. My parents checked with my brother and I one last time before leaving to run errands.

I heard the garage door shut behind them and everything seemed to be OK. The living room upstairs was even quiet, but not too quiet with our three dogs and two cats always roaming around. I turned my wheelchair on and went into the family room to make sure things were where they were supposed to be — and they were.

I slowly made my way back to my computer to finish my story. Just as I got settled, a car came speeding down the highway outside my bedroom window — followed by a symphony of loud, screeching tires. Then I heard an equally loud thump on the ground and a dog yelping.

My first thought was that our neighbor’s dog had escaped their yard and was hit. It was the only logical thing that crossed my mind in that moment. I tried to calm down enough to figure out if I needed to do something or call someone. All the while, I could still hear a dog yelping outside.

A few minutes passed. I nervously sat in my room near my window and listened for any other noises. There was nothing except for the three sounds I had just heard. I suddenly realized that all this seemed eerily close to our house — too close to be at our neighbor’s. My hands were shaking as I grabbed my phone to text my brother, who was upstairs in his room.

He dashed down the stairs to find the front door hanging open and all three of our dogs outside. He found Lacy, our black Labrador and Shelby, our 1-year-old puppy and got them back into the house safely. When he went back outside to look for Gizmo, our German Shepherd, however, he eventually saw a dog limping near the highway and ran up to investigate.

It didn’t take long for my brother and I to realize it was Gizmo who had been hit. It became even more evident that this was a hit and run, since the driver didn’t stop and no other cars even slowed down. My brother gingerly walked Gizmo down from the highway and got him into the house. Neither of us noticed there was a trail of blood until he laid down.

Gizmo limped his way down to my room. His black-and-tan coat was mangled and covered in blood, along with his legs and paws. I kept him calm until my brother called our parents.

They rushed to our vet and then to Metzger’s Animal Hospital in State College later that night, where Gizmo would fight for his life in the most nerve-wracking week of ours. The medical staff called every day and there were times when they thought they had lost Gizmo, and so did we. His injuries were so severe that he had to be closely monitored through that week.

By some miracle, Gizmo pulled through and is slowly recovering. This was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced, but I’m grateful my brother and I acted so quickly and didn’t have time to overthink anything.

This has shown me why nothing should be taken for granted. The most important thing I’ve learned is to always keep my eyes and heart open — and never wait to say “I love you.”

Erin Kelly, 33, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she also writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Upworthy, and Real Talk Magazine. Email her at