By Josh LaBella
Jennifer Murillo described her sister, Gabby, as a bubbly person with a contagious smile and a heart of gold.
“I feel like any time my sisters or my family or friends needed something, Gabby would always be the person to volunteer to help,” said Murillo. “I own an online jewelry store. She would always help me pack when I’d get swamped with orders.”
Jennifer said her sister was about a month into her dream internship at Disneyworld in Orlando when she was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. Her C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae were injured as well as other nerves being completely severed. Since the June 15 accident, Gabby has undergone multiple surgeries and was recently airlifted from Florida to Georgia.
According to Murillo, Gabby’s desire to work at Disney grew overtime and started with family trips to Disneyworld. She said it grew when Gabby participated in a cheerleading competition in Florida. By the time she was a freshman at Gateway Community College, Murillo said Gabby knew she wanted to do the internship program at Walt Disney World.
“Me, personally, I had no idea that even existed,” said Murillo. “But she was a fan. She said, ‘I want to do this. This is my goal.’”
Murillo said received the notice that she was chosen for the internship early this year. She said Gabby cried tears of joy when she got the news.
“We were all so happy for her,” said Murillo. “She’s 22 and she’s finally getting out of my parents house and starting her own adventure.”
Jennifer said Gabby moved down to Orlando in early May and began the internship later that month.
“She loved it,” said Jennifer. “She would text our whole family saying ‘I’m going to Magic Kingdom tonight to watch the fireworks.’ And that was just her Friday night thing – going to any of the parks at no cost. It was remarkable for her.”
Murillo said the weeks since Gabby was in the car accident have been a “big jumble.” She said her mom has been with Gabby since the car accident and has been hard not having her home.
“It’s upsetting for our whole family because we’re all separated,” said Murillo, adding that her sister Amanda discussed with her how she missed family events like Sunday dinner. “It’s been a lot of changes and I just keep telling myself and my mother that this is just temporary. This is just going to be a memory one day.”
Jennifer said Gabby is doing great and has made a lot of progress since the accident. She said she and Amanda went to Atlanta to visit Gabby over the weekend.
“They’re taking her off the trach four about four hours and then put her on for about three hours,” said Murillo. “So for those four hours that she is off the trach she actually has a voice and I can kind of see Gabby being normal again.”
Murillo said Gabby was cracking jokes the entire weekend. She said it was good to see that Gabby is slowly but surely getting her quality of life back.
Jennifer said the family has been told to expect medical bills upwards of a million dollars. She said insurance is not covering everything. She said they will be able to write some of the equipment off on their taxes but other things, such as 24-hour care, which might be necessary depending on Gabby’s progress, will cost a lot of money.
The Murillo family is hopeful, Jennifer said, that between therapy and the stem cell research studies they are trying to get Gabby into, she will make progress.
“To get Gabby back to even moving her fingers would be the ideal situation,” said Jennifer. “That one day, she would be able to hold her own cup of coffee, or do her own hair, do her own makeup. Then she’ll be more independent. We’re hopeful for that.”
Jennifer said the community has been incredible. She said she always knew West Haven was great but she would never expect the amount of support they have received. She said even just the messages of support mean a lot to them.
“I’m truly proud to be from this town,” said Murillo.
Jennifer said Gabby is a fighter. She said she has always known her sister is amazing but this experience has changed her perspective and shown her how strong an individual Gabby is.
“I don’t know any other person that would be as positive and strong-willed about this entire experience,” said Murillo. “I hate saying this because it’s such a cliché but she really is my hero.”