Laura Nybom’s phone was buzzing Tuesday morning. Assisted living facilities were calling to set up an assessment of Nybom’s sister, April Vernon, who had suffered a head injury from getting hit by a vehicle. The hospital was calling to notify Nybom that they were ready to discharge Vernon that afternoon.
“I am absolutely 100% overwhelmed,” Nybom said.
So many things went into motion after Vernon was hit by a vehicle at the intersection of Bald Ridge Road and Lanier 400 Parkway as she went on her routine walk on Thursday, Aug. 15. The 66-year-old local resident was taken to a hospital in critical condition from the head injury. The driver was cited for “failure to exercise due care,” according to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
April is in stable condition now, but doctors found other medical complications. Doctors diagnosed her with atrial fibrillation, or an abnormal heart rhythm, Nybom said, and her blood sugar levels were high from diabetes.
After an adulthood of independence, it’s clear to Nybom and other family members that Vernon needs more supervised care.
“This is a long time coming,” Nybom said.
The decision was wrought with emotion though. April has lived in Forsyth County for decades, one of the last vestiges of a family with deep roots in the area, said her cousin, Janna Vernon. April’s grandparents were sharecroppers, Janna said, moving from farm to farm for work but always living “in the shadow of Sawnee Mountain.”
April was born in Forsyth County, the oldest of four children. The family moved to Forest Park briefly when April’s father got a job at the airport, but they eventually moved back to Cumming when April was a teenager.
April has lived in Cumming ever since and became a recognizable presence from her long walks on busy town roads, rain or shine. She developed a reputation for being a fierce guard of her independence. Concerned drivers would spot April walking and stop to offer her a ride, but Vernon always refused.
“She is one spunky, independent person,” Janna said, “and you can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do.”
It contributed to a shroud of mystery around April. Rumors started. Some thought she didn’t accept rides because her family had been killed in a wreck.
Nybom and Janna said those rumors aren’t true, but the family has dealt with its share of loss. Her brother died of a stroke. A sister died from cancer. Their father died from lung cancer, their mother from medical issues with age.
But April never deviated from her routine.
“We’ve got lots of resiliency in our family,” Janna said. “It’s in our genes. She’s come by it honest.”
Even now, Nybom said April’s resilience remains intact.
“She keeps saying, ‘I want to go home,’” Nybom said.
That doesn’t feel like an option, Nybom said, but finding a place for April to live has been a complicated process. Though April has “the mental capacity of a child,” Janna said, she’s more advanced than the nursing home environment she could qualify for through Medicare and Medicaid. Nybom is looking at assisted living facilities in the area but the cost has been high.
“She falls between the cracks in everything,” Nybom said, “and it’s just a sea of bureaucracy.”
The community has alleviated some of Nybom’s concerns. Kimberly McBroom Petkosh, a nurse who used to live near April, started a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $3,500 from more than 80 donors. Nybom says it’s almost enough to pay for April’s first month’s rent at whatever assisted living facility she moves to.
But the donations have also been a signal to Nybom of April’s meaningful presence in the community.“I just want to thank everybody,” Nybom said. “I had no idea how famous she was in Cumming.”