On Sundays, the Merrick family likes to get out and do something fun together. They often go for walks or bike rides.
On Nov. 17, the Bluffton family of five decided to go for a walk in the woods near their home. What started as a fun adventure ended in a helicopter flight to the emergency room and a week in the intensive care unit.
Sonia Merrick said her youngest child, Mirella, was hit in the head by a log that fell from the top of a dead 30- to 40-foot pine tree. She said her 4-year-old daughter stood up but was knocked back down by another log. That time she did not get up.
As Sonia rushed to Mirella, her husband, Lee Merrick, owner of Merrick Services, dialed 911.
"We had to carry her out of the woods because where we were in that forest was too dense for an ambulance or anybody to come out and get her," Sonia said. "So we carried her about a quarter of a mile, and she was out of it, and I kept trying to keep her awake ... She started turning blue so I started resuscitating her while we were walking."
When the Merricks made it out of the woods, an ambulance was waiting for them on Pinckney Colony Road. The ambulance rushed them to a helicopter that was sitting in the middle of U.S. 278, and Mirella was flown to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.
Scans at the hospital showed a bruise and blood on her brain, as well as fractures in her face. She had breathing difficulties for a week, but was finally cleared to go home Nov. 23.
Mirella is doing much better now and is expected to make a full recovery.
While Mirella was recovering in the hospital, family friends got busy collecting money to help with hospital bills. A teacher at River Ridge Academy, Sonia has insurance but said she had no idea what her portion of the medical bills will be.
Sonia's friend Michelle Morante set up a GoFundMe page for the family, while her co-workers at River Ridge collected gift cards and Alliance Dance Academy took donations for the Merricks.
Rochelle Clarkson, owner of the dance school, sent an email to her students' parents on Nov. 20 asking for prayers and donations for the little girl. Clarkson said the studio would be collecting money through Dec. 13 and she would match whatever they collect for the family.
"Our dance family is strong, and we need to pull together to help one of our youngest dancers and her family during this very difficult time," Clarkson wrote in the email. "This is a huge reminder that life can change in an instant ... hug your kids tighter and be thankful!"
At the time of publication, the GoFundMe page had raised $5,894 and Alliance had received about $800 in donations. To donate, visit gofundme.com and search for Mirella Merrick.
"The amount of response that (the GoFundMe page) got was overwhelming," Sonia said. "I didn't expect that. I looked at it, and people I've never even heard of, people I don't even know were donating. ... It's been beautiful. It's really been truly a blessing."
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.