With a procession of vehicles, signs, and cheers, Haliburton welcomed Sadie Lester as she returned home from treatment at SickKids Hospital in Toronto April 17.
Lester was the six-year-old critically injured in attack by two Saint Bernard dogs April 12 in Dysart et al, according to the family. She was airlifted to Toronto, requiring extensive treatment and surgery according to the family, including over 400 stitches. Her mother Lindsay Lester also suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the attack.
But the community has rallied around the family, putting up welcome signs and lining up in cars outside the family home, including police cruisers and a fire truck. The community has also raised more than $33,000 on GoFundMe to support Sadie as of April 18.
“The welcome back into Haliburton was beyond anything we could ever imagine,” AJ Lester, Sadie’s father, said in a Facebook post. “I truly can’t thank you all enough … This community has banded together and have shown us what a real community is.
“Your time and effort mean the world to my family and Sadie was beaming ear-to-ear. She said she’s famous. You gave a little girl who’s going through hell on Earth a huge gift today.”
Tiffany Prentice said she knows the family through the Lakeside Church and participated in the gesture.
“We’ve all kind of adopted Sadie as our own this week,” Prentice said. “Just as they (the Lester family) kind of crested the hill, it was a cloudy, overcast day. I swear to you the clouds parted and the sun shone down on that truck … There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that God was with them on their journey.”
AJ Lester has posted regular updates to Facebook during Sadie’s recovery process. He described a difficult experience given the severity of Sadie’s injuries. Lester said she would require a walker to get around their home and expects more surgery in the next 12 months.
“Please understand if you don’t hear back from us, it’s just so overwhelming,” Lester wrote in an update April 16. “We are grateful for all your support, love and prayers, we just don’t emotionally have it to talk to everyone, to talk to hardly anyone. We just want to wake up from this, but it’s not a dream.”
Lester said the family is declining media interviews.
In another update, he said he has encouraged Sadie with the thought of a trip to Disneyland when the experience is all over.
“I just want to give this beautiful little creation something to set her sights on in the midst of all this pain. Her questions break my heart,” he posted April 15. “Truly thankful to God for sparing her, just still in total disbelief.”
Police said they are still investigating the attack, and the dogs are quarantined outside of the community by order of the local health unit.
“We are upset, frustrated and angry, but I want those who are watching to know we don’t have hate in us right now,” Lester said.
Prentice recalled how the community supported her family when they went through an ordeal several years ago, where her son was also airlifted to Toronto hospital. She said they wanted to make sure that support happened for Sadie too.
“We do this with everyone when this happens. The community itself really takes on that family as their own and becomes so close. They just have to help in some way, and it makes them feel better. Especially right now with the isolation,” Prentice said.
The GoFundMe for the Lester family is available at https://ca.gofundme.com/f/sadie-lester.