Skaneateles teen leads book drive for Golisano Children's Hospital

— Graduating Skaneateles senior Sara Wetzel found many ways to turn her scary and disabling health crisis in middle school into something positive while she was in high school. As a result of one of her positive actions, young adults who are hospitalized in Syracuse will have more to do with their time.

Wetzel spent many months in a hospital and then in rehab after developing Guillian Barres Syndrome in eighth grade. The auto-immune disorder is in the family of MS and lupus, but it is considered a disorder rather than a disease, "because it goes away," Wetzel explained.

Its onset for her was extremely painful and initially paralyzed her. After a month in a drug-induced coma, the paralysis slowly began to dissipate. As she recovered, she had to relearn to do most everything as she regained muscle. "Among other things, I had to re-learn how to brush my teeth, comb my hair, tie my shoes, get dressed and walk," she said.

During her recovery, she discovered that the hospital rehabilitation center had very little reading material to offer a 13-year-old avid reader. Wetzel wanted more than the paint-by-numbers and romance novels that came around on the activity cart.

Her friends and family brought books in to satisfy her thirst for books. When she left rehab, she donated many of her own books so that the young people who followed her could have a mini library to choose from.

Wetzel remembered that general dearth of reading material four years later — this past winter —when her fellow book group members at Skaneateles High School started brainstorming ideas for community service projects.

"I mentioned that because we are a book group, it would make sense to do something book-related," she said. She told fellow book group members that hospital pediatric floors tend to have just children's picture books. Her hunch was that pediatric floors in Syracuse would be similar to the hospital and rehab unit in Washington State, where she lived and was hospitalized in eighth grade. She moved to Skaneateles with her family in August before her freshman year.

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