Community Rallies Around Ailing Teacher and Celebrates Her Miraculous Recovery
Story by D.R. De La Croix, Photos by Alysa Hritzik
“It’s not my story; it’s God’s story.” Those were the words of a visibly moved April Von Maxey following a benefit concert held in her honor on May 24th. It is quite a story, whoever it belongs to.
April Von Maxey contracted a rare and virulent strain of Strep A in April, 2017. Both April and her husband, Kevin, are teachers in Tavares public schools, so there was not a lot of alarm April initially developed a cough other flu like symptoms. The flu, however, weakened her immune system, and allowed Strep A to attack her systems. The bacteria quickly spread and developed into pneumonia. Von Maxey knew something wasn’t right, but had no idea what she was in for. Von Maxey was diagnosed with necrotizing strep, a very rare disease also known as flesh eating bacteria, which was settling into her lungs. She was immediately placed on a respirator. The bacteria spread within a matter of hours. The disease has a 97 percent mortality rate. Von Maxey was soon fighting for her life.
Von Maxey was airlifted to Florida Hospital South in Orlando, but continued to decline, and spent nearly two weeks in a coma. Kevin Von Maxey, April’s husband and high school sweetheart, saw his world turned upside down. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to her – to us. This is my wife. We have two children at home…There were nights the nurses and doctors thought she wouldn’t make it through to the morning,” he said. ”How could this be happening? I didn’t know what else to do besides pray.”
The people of Lake County joined right in that prayer. The Von Maxey’s attend First Presbyterian Church of Eustis, where April is active in the music program. April teaches at Tavares Elementary School and Kevin at Tavares Middle School, where they both coach the cross country team. Soon their community of faith and their schools were rallying behind them in ways they would never have imagined. Prayer vigils were held at churches and schools. A Go Fund Me account was created for the Von Maxey’s and funds poured in from some 200 donors. “Team April” t-shirts began popping up in the Golden Triangle, with the proceeds going to the Von Maxey’s. It seemed April’s name was on the lips of everyone in the area.
In the meantime, however, Kevin was forced to make a very difficult decision – to authorize a risky procedure or wait for April to heal. Doctors estimated that 60% of one of April’s lungs and 15% of the other lung had been destroyed. Her heart rate was far too high and she was comatose. Time was not on their side, but the alternative was terrifying. ECMO is a very high risk surgical procedure which by-passes the lungs. Blood passes from the body, is oxygenated, and returned to the body. With the risk of permanent brain damage from oxygen deprivation, and death still looming, Kevin chose the ECMO treatment. If successful, the process normally takes four to six weeks to complete and could require up to four months of hospitalization. The success rates are low. Miraculously, April was off the ECMO machine in only six days, and ended up spending about three total weeks in the hospital. She was home in time for Mother’s Day. While Von Maxey has an egg-sized hole in one lung, and is still temporarily wheelchair bound, her recovery exceeds anyone’s wildest expectations. In fact, doctors were stunned by her miraculous recovery, and word spread quickly through the hospital. Von Maxey notes, “The last doctor who saw me put her hands on me and told me it was divine intervention. She said when someone is this close to death, there’s nothing doctors can do. I whole-heartedly believe it was the result of the prayers and support of my community.”
Her community, however, was far from done supporting the Von Maxey’s. First Presbyterian Church approached Kevin about the possibility of doing a benefit concert shortly after April was released from the hospital. Kevin demurred, saying they were already so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for April. The church, however, explained that the community wanted to help in any way it could, and wanted to celebrate with April. In the meantime, fellow running enthusiasts had contacted Kevin about organizing a 5K benefit for Von Maxey. Fittingly, the fund-raising events for the church musician and runner were a Christian concert and a 5K.
The 5K “Run for April” was held on May 20th at Hickory Point in Tavares. Hundreds of participants ran and several thousand dollars were raised. The whole event ran like a well-oiled machine, and the Von Maxey family was really touched by yet another outpouring of support. As Kevin put it, “Both April and I grew up in Tavares, went to elementary, middle and high schools in our city, and came back to each and coach at the local schools. We have never been so proud to be a part of this community as we are today….Our motto ‘One. Big. Family.’ doesn’t just apply to our cross-country team, but it also reinforces the fact that all of us share a special connection to each other as people that transcends race, gender, politics, and all our other differences. Thank you for your prayers, and for allowing us to be a part of all of your lives.”
The “Concert to Benefit April” was held on May 24th at First Presbyterian Church. Up-and-coming local band “Harry Love and the Hell-Stompers” opened the show with a Southern rock inspired Gospel set. The main act was Atlanta based “Crystal Padilla Music” which was just wrapping up a short run in Central America. As one concert-goer observed, “Don’t be surprised if you hear a few of these folks again on your Christian radio station in the next few years.” The benefit concert was one part fundraiser and one part praise for answered prayer. As April put it, “God blessed me with an amazing church family, one that I have been part of since I was 12. I couldn’t ask for or be more thankful for this amazing extended family.” It was a very special night for the church family.
Von Maxey is still a long way from teaching and running 5Ks. She has ongoing tests and therapy. The prognosis, however, is remarkable. April knows that her community and God have her back. The family says they have felt more love from, and pride in their community than ever before. They also say the experience has strengthened their faith, and they are thrilled to share April’s story. As she says, “There is no other explanation as to why I recovered than I was touched by God.”
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