High School Grad Thanks Deputies Who Visited Hospital
Seventeen-year-old Lauren Burton was laid up in bed at NCH North in December when the world outside lit up red, white and blue.
More than 30 Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies and firefighters had flicked their lights and sirens on for the first Goodnight Lights event at the hospital, bringing cheer to kids stuck in the hospital around the holidays.
Dazed by medication and a sudden condition that caused confusion and fatigue, Burton broke down in tears. She asked her mother Elyse Burton to wave over a nearby deputy who was handing out gifts.
Cpl. Sherry Rego gave her a stuffed brown bear with a little blue sweater. Burton, a Community School of Naples student, hugged Cpl. Rego and cried some more.
“This is my best day,” she said over and over, a quote that stuck in the minds of both Cpl. Rego and Sgt. Glen Tatum, who helped organize Goodnight Lights.
“It was a really difficult time,” Elyse Burton said, recalling the morning that sent her daughter to the hospital and marked the beginning of a recovery process that lasted well into February.
On Wednesday, Burton brought in several dozen cookies she baked as thanks to the deputies who brightened her day during one of the roughest periods of her life.
“It was so special being there and seeing all the lights go on,” said Burton, who still keeps that stuffed bear next to her bed.
“You touched everybody’s heart that day,” Cpl. Rego said.
Deputies gathered at the District 4 substation in Golden Gate Estates Wednesday to meet with Burton, who looked unrecognizable compared to their December visit when Elyse Burton said her daughter suffered from facial paralysis and symptoms similar to that of a stroke victim.
At age 12, Burton was diagnosed with a lifelong condition known as Chiari Malformation, a structural problem with the brain and spinal cord that affects balance, among other things. She’s had brain surgery and other treatments to lessen the effects, which include seizures.
Then one day in December of last year, she woke up and didn’t feel well.
At NCH North and later at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, she would learn she had a second condition called PoTS, postural tachycardia syndrome, which causes problems with memory, extreme fatigue, dizziness and sudden confusion.
“It was difficult to see as a parent,” Elyse Burton said. “So it was great to see her tear up with the bear.”
Burton brought a thank-you note to the deputies who showed up for the event and the ones who continued to check on her during her recovery in the following months as she finished high school online and got to walk the stage for graduation this spring.
“Many thanks for the kindness you showed me while I was in the hospital and for keeping the community safe every day,” she wrote. “Thank you to your families as well for supporting you in such an important job.”
Burton has plans to Florida Gulf Coast University part-time this fall, where she hopes to major in pre-law and later attend law school. She’s also hoping to secure a service dog that could alert her to seizures and help her recover when she falls or becomes disoriented.
“We’re proud of you Lauren,” Sgt. Tatum told her Wednesday. “You’re so brave. Keep smiling.”