On this day dedicated to giving thanks, The Herald-News revisited people who were the subjects of three stories this year.
They all faced remarkable and unique challenges. We thought it would be interesting to come back and ask them to reflect on what Thanksgiving means to them.
Here are Thanksgiving messages we are passing on to you from the stories of Sarah Dean, Michael Pinnick and the Sabec brothers.
Dean is a young nurse who lost her hand while on a mission in South America. Pinnick is a recovering drug addict who now devotes his life to helping others even while struggling with cancer. The Sabec brothers are a family whose longtime New Lenox home received a unique facelift as the result of a tremendous act of good will in the community.
We hope their reflections on life’s blessings add to your Thanksgiving.
In March, Sarah Dean lost her left hand in a bus accident while on a Christian medical mission trip in Bolivia.
It took a return-trip home, five surgeries, dozens of follow-up doctor appointments, and hundreds of supportive friends and family to get Dean – a 26-year-old trauma nurse from Plainfield – where she is today.
And she’s thankful.
“It’s nice to be here with family for the holidays,” Dean said Tuesday in her family’s Plainfield home.
In the months since the accident, which left three people dead and 16 people injured, Dean hasn’t given up on her passion for medicine. She has enrolled in graduate school classes at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, where she plans to obtain her master’s degree and become an advanced nurse practitioner.
All the while, Dean has started over, learning how to dress, work, live and practice medicine with one hand. Her goal, she said, is to return to the medical field one day as a trauma nurse.
“Putting my hair in a ponytail has been really hard. But I’m getting it. I’ve been chopping vegetables and baking and typing on a computer,” she said. “I can do a lot of things. It just takes longer.”
Dean was discharged from occupational therapy a few weeks ago after countless sessions. She deals with phantom limb pain, common among amputees, on a daily basis. That could take two years to go away, she said.
Dean has been invited to tell her story at area church events. She’s even gone as far as South Carolina and Virginia to speak.
“I have a crazy story. I don’t even believe it half the time, like when I sit here now and think about it,” Dean said. “But we all have these stories of pain and sorrow. Even though in the midst of suffering, there is hope and it’s not meaningless.”
Everyone has stories of pain – losing a loved one or being diagnosed with cancer, for example – but she said there’s much to be thankful for.
“When I was in the bus, I kept thinking about my nieces and nephews and the sadness of never being able to see them grow up. There’s times now where I get to hold them and I do have a tear because I am thankful,” Dean said.
In the midst of treatments for stage four lymphoma and stage two lung cancer, recovering drug addict Michael Pinnick, 52, of Joliet said he is thankful for two reasons.
One is for the gift of life – again. The other is for a deeper relationship with the God that’s giving it to him.
“Sometimes we take life for granted,” Pinnick said. “I’m thankful I built a better relationship with God, because sometimes we take that for granted, too.”
Pinnick is too busy collecting donations for his seventh annual Christmas party for disadvantaged children 12 and under to waste time at a pity party. He needs enough gifts, hot dogs, potato chips and punch for about 300 kids by Dec. 21, the party’s date.
The party will include entertainment – praise dancers and a rapper – along with a visit from Santa, a man in recovery whom Pinnick mentors.
“Imagine the black kid in the projects with the parents who are too drunk or high to send him for a picture with Santa,” Pinnick said. “Every kid goes home with a picture with Santa and a gift.”
Pinnick also spent a day driving around distributing turkeys – after someone donated 10 – to anyone who looked like he or she needed one. Last August, he collected donations for his foundation’s annual “Back to School Fair.”
In his spare time, Pinnick checks in at Pinnick Place, his foundation’s two Joliet homes for women recovering from substance abuse. And, yes, he acquired donations for complete Thanksgiving dinners for these women, too.
“As long as I live, I’ll continue to help people – the sick, the suffering and those who are looked down on,” Pinnick said. “I’m going to continue to find a way to be active in my community.”
To donate to the “Done With Drugs” Christmas party, contact Iris Pinnick at 815-274-3130.
When Ray Sabec woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday, he thought about all the things that made him thankful.
The New Lenox resident had a lot to be grateful for this year. Sabec and two brothers watched as the dozens of volunteers along with two nonprofit organizations – Sharefest and Operation Nehemiah – came together to renovate their deteriorating abode.
“We’re lucky to be here in New Lenox,” Sabec said. “Just the way people help each other. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.”
The volunteers did more than just rebuild the home. They gave one of the brothers and their dog, Shadow, medical treatment and care.
The home had fallen apart over the years, with a leaky utility room, broken furnace and blighted appearance. It was the home Ray, Lawrence and Don lived in all their lives but it didn’t seem like it would last for long.
Until August. That’s when organizers with Sharefest gathered donations, volunteers and help from Operation Nehemiah, an organization dedicated to disaster relief and rebuilding destroyed homes.
Now the brothers live in a renovated home that keeps them warm, comfortable and feeling normal.
“Your thinking changes, too, because you can make plans for other things rather than just get by from day to day,” Sabec said.
Sabec said for Thanksgiving, the brothers – along with friends and family – plan to kick back and enjoy a traditional feast that was bought for them by a Homer Glen couple. He said the brothers plan in the future on giving back to the community that has given them so much.
“We want to be good people and good citizens. And the good old-fashioned values in life, we want to spread that around,” he said.