Elizabeth Garcia Gamez, Malverne High School
By Joie Tyrell
Winston Churchill would have recognized Elizabeth Garcia Gamez’s fighting spirit.
“Never, never, never give up,” Britain’s prime minister famously told his fellow Britons during World War II.
And that is precisely what Gamez did upon waking up from a weekslong coma after a January 2014 car crash that claimed the life of her older sister, Cindy.
Gamez, of Lynbrook, was just 13. She and her sister were returning from Cindy’s Sweet 16 party rehearsal.
Gamez, who sustained severe head and body injuries, was described by those who knew her at Howard T. Herber Middle School as a scholar-athlete.
When Gamez awoke from her coma, she couldn’t walk or speak English, which was her second language; she also had lost her sense of balance and some of her short-term memory.
“I remember my parents telling me I turned 14 in a coma,” Gamez said, adding that she had to rely on a feeding tube. “I couldn’t talk; I didn’t talk for, like, a whole month.” After regaining her speech and mobility, Gamez said improving her balance took longer.
Gamez, 18, will graduate with a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, and said one of her favorite subjects as a senior was trigonometry.
She said she wants to help others the way her speech therapist helped her. That included overcoming damage to her short-term memory that jeopardized her everyday life and her ability to learn.
“I forgot things within seconds,” Gamez recalled.
After long months at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, she was released to continue her recovery at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, Westchester County.
“It was the happiest day of my life, because I remember not being able to talk, and I was freaking out,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of there.”
Though much of her eighth-grade year is still lost to her, Gamez said that “as soon as I saw a phone, and I saw posts in English, the whole language came back to me.”
Gamez’s freshman year at Malverne High School began in February in the 2014-15 academic year; her outpatient rehabilitation at Blythedale lasted about a year.
She made friends and discovered a new endeavor — weightlifting.
“It’s just, like, my favorite free-time [activity],” she said.
That was probably the case until April, when Gamez, the former younger sister, became a big sister. Her new sibling is named Glendy. It combines the first three letters of their mother’s name, Glenda, and the last three of her late sister’s, Cindy.
School counselor Laura Pulitano, who has known Gamez since middle school, said Gamez delights in showing pictures and videos of her new sister. “It’s a miracle,” she said. “The baby’s adorable.”
Pulitano’s word of choice to describe Gamez is “awesome.”
“She worked harder than anyone could ever imagine to get physically better and to be academically successful,” Pulitano said, noting that Gamez also is a community service volunteer. “She really does enjoy giving back and helping others.”
Gamez has some advice for anyone facing a struggle: “Just have faith, because God gives the hardest tasks to the ones he feels can come out of it.”
Gamez will attend St. John’s University and major in speech pathology.
She said she is most looking forward to “meeting people, learning more about speech pathology.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD:
Gamez said she would help foster more understanding. “People need to be more understanding of other people.”