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Letter from the Editor: From my family, thank you, Gillette

County 17 Community Editor Ryan Lewallen stands with his partner, Chelsea (Chelsea Croker)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — I’ve seen it at least a dozen times since my first day reporting for County 17 several years ago, but how much this community and others are willing to come together to help one of their own in a time of crisis never ceases to amaze me. 

From providing food and financial aid to gifting desperately needed emergency funds for a family in need, I’ve seen it all happen here and have gone to lengths to record it in the archives of County 17. With every story, my faith in humanity was restored and I was proud to say I’m part of this wonderful community in which I have chosen to make my home.

But in all my years of reporting, of gathering stories of families and individuals reaching out with cries for help in a time of crisis, it never once occurred to me that I would one day be the one making a desperate plea for help from my neighbors. 

On Nov. 15, exactly two weeks before my daughter’s second birthday, tragedy struck my family in the form of a horrific incident and my little girl was life-flighted to Children’s Hospital Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado.

Thankfully, now, she is well on her way to making a full recovery thanks to the incredible medical staff working in Aurora. But at the time, it was a father’s worst nightmare seeing my daughter being loaded in the back of an ambulance knowing she would soon be flown by plane hundreds of miles away, and knowing I had not the financial means to get to her.

Our initial cry for help was answered with a generous donation from my partner’s family in Georgia. I put off the bills that could be spared and set off for Aurora with the rest of my immediate family. While driving somewhere between Wright and Douglas—watching how my large SUV was guzzling fuel and looking for the cheapest accommodations near the hospital—I realized what we had wouldn’t see us through the next several days. 

While my partner contacted organizations that could help us, I decided it was time to swallow what little pride I had left and reach out to the community for aid. What happened next, I never could have imagined. 

Within 24 hours of making our plea, donations flooded in from friends, family, churches, and County 17 readers alike and we were over halfway to our goal. Within 48 hours, our goal had been met and we were able to make the decision to stay in Aurora with my daughter until she was discharged and her initial follow-up appointment. 

While I said a silent prayer of thanks as we watched the donation meter climb from a chair in my daughter’s hospital room, I feel now that this community deserves more from me, especially with this being a holiday to be thankful.

So, I will say this: I am extremely proud and forever grateful to live in a community and a state filled with such incredible, kind-hearted, and selfless people. I expected nothing, and you gave me everything. I will never forget what was done for my family. 

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my family, thank you, Gillette, and everyone, for everything.