Community rallies around Richmond Hill teacher who suffered spinal injury


RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) — A tight-knit Bryan County community is showing an outpouring of support for a woman paralyzed from the chest down.

A Memorial Day weekend gathering took a tragic turn in a blink of an eye for middle school teacher Valerie Feske, who was climbing up a waterslide at a friend’s home on May 23.

“We were laughing at her and having fun, she was up there a couple minutes,” Feske’s husband, Brent, told NOW. 

“Then there was this out-of-blue collision that happened,” Brent said. “She was at the bottom, somebody came down and hit her from the top.”

He says shock and adrenaline rushed through him as he and others worked to take care of his seriously injured wife.

“It was a neck injury and as you’re told, you don’t move her, so she was lying down in the water and we just kind of secured her until EMS came,” he recalled of the frightening moment.

The group held Valerie in place for about 10 minutes before help arrived.

“I remember my arms burning, and I was tired and I was scared,” Brent shared.

Despite the massive amount of pain she suffered, he says her own well-being wasn’t Valerie’s focus. 

“Her dog was there, she was like, ‘everybody check and make sure the dog didn’t run away,’” Brent said.

His wife of 13 years began her road to recovery at Memorial Health, where Brent spent every moment he could by her side.

Doctors have said Valerie may never walk again.

Since the accident, friends, former and current students, family members and even strangers from across the country have reached out to check up on her status. 

Those that care for her started the “Val’s Village” Facebook page to keep people updated on her recovery progress and provide a space for offering ways to help her on the long journey ahead. 

“From what they tell me, they continue to drop the meds; she is stabilizing great,” wrote Brent in a recent update on the Facebook page.  

The page has garnered more than 5,800 likes and 6,300 followers.

“We just wanted to create something that really showed how much we love Valerie, and we came up with Val’s Village because she has so many people here, near, far that love her so much and want to support her,” family friend Maria Knight told NOW.

Gov. Brian Kemp joined the many sharing their support on social media, tweeting on May 28: “Our family and your fellow Georgians are with you in this fight!”

Friends have also started a GoFundMe page to help the beloved teacher, friend, wife and mom of two cover her medical costs. 

The fundraising goal is $250,000, and in nearly two weeks of the campaign going live, it has pulled in more than $54,700.

The outpouring of support is so great,” said Brent, adding a special thanks from Valerie to her Memorial Health nurses.

“Nurse Tammy and Nurse Ashley have been so fantastic in comforting her, not only her physical but her mental pain,” Brent said. 

Neighbor and friend Shanna Lafontaine seconds those sentiments. 

“The doctors and nurses have been amazing, they braided her hair and painted her nails, just trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible,” Lafontaine told NOW.

While many are remaining positive for Valerie, Knight says everyone’s taking her progress one day at a time.

This is a marathon and not a sprint, we know that she’s gonna be in rehab for a while, we’re not quite certain what that’s gonna look like, and we’re just buckling up and ready to be there right along with her,” Knight said. 

Valerie’s loved ones say she’s already showing great progress.

“The therapists have been happy with her arm movement, her ability to start to feed herself, she was sitting up and holding herself up today,” Brent said.

“She’s doing better, and I know a lot of people out there are very concerned and interested in her recovery, and it makes me happy to say that every day, she’s just getting a little bit better, and we’re gonna keep at that,” he added. 

With the help of Bryan County Emergency Services, Valerie was recently transported to the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta-based rehabilitation hospital devoted to spinal cord and brain injuries.

In the meantime, as Valerie takes slow steps toward healing, her supporters both near and far will continue to cheer her on. 

“We feel certain that we’re all gonna witness a miracle,” Knight said. “We’re just waiting on it to happen.” 

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