Second teenager in past year suffers spinal injury in Lake Michigan shallows
Online fundraisers continue for NTHS seniors injured 8 months apart
For the second time in eight months, North Shore residents are supporting a local teenager who suffered a spinal cord injury in shallow water.
Both seniors at New Trier High School, Clay Scherb and Pato Gilchrist were paralyzed in accidents — Scherb in August 2022 and Gilchrist on April 12 — after leaping into Lake Michigan near Winnetka beaches. GoFundMe.com fundraisers for the teens have collectively raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pato Gilchrist sustained his injury when he dove into Lake Michigan near Maple Street Beach, according to his sister Sara Gilchrist. She said Pato broke multiple vertebrae in his neck, received emergency surgery and and was recently transferred to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
Sara Gilchrist, who returned home from Spain following Pato’s accident, runs the GoFundMe for Pato. It has raised more than $175,000 through 1,300 donations as of Tuesday, April 25. The family hopes to raise $500,000 to help cover emergency medical care, physical therapy, long-term needs and outpatient rehab.
She said Pato’s New Trier connections have come through since the incident.
“New Trier has been immensely supportive,” Sara Gilchrist said. “His teachers have come to see him, so many of his classmates (too).”
Since moving to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Pato has gone through therapy and is making “little improvements every day” but remains paralyzed from the stomach down, she said.
Through it all, Sara Gilchrist said her brother’s spirit is inspiring.
“He’s very optimistic. His energy amazes,” she said. “I would … be angry and sad, but he’s always been such a happy child and such a light for everyone. Through this process, he’s keeping positives. He still tries to make his visitors laugh.”
In August 2022, Clay Scherb suffered an injury similar to Pato’s in the shallow waters off Lloyd Beach in Winnetka.
A GoFundMe in honor of Scherb has raised more than $113,000 from more than 1,000 donations, and his recovery has also been the subject of multiple fundraisers, including a Play For Clay sled-hockey game and the Christmas on Cleveland Street holiday lights display.
Both Scherb’s and Gilchrist’s accidents occurred on property owned by the Winnetka Park District.
John Peterson, executive director of the district, said the park district is aware of both incidents. Scherb’s injury, he said, caused the district to review safety measures at Lloyd Beach and its boat launch, the area where the accident occurred. Peterson did not say if any changes had been made.
He said the park district does not have firsthand knowledge of Gilchrist’s incident and cannot comment; though, he did confirm that the beach was closed at the time and did not have park district employees on duty. Winnetka beaches open to public swimming in early June.
Sara Gilchrist said on the day of the accident, April 12, Pato was at the beach with a group of friends, many of whom were jumping into the water. She said even though it was a horrible accident, everyone needs to be careful in that situation.
“People should watch out when they dive,” she said. “It was something I’ve done a million times and so has Pato and it was just bad luck, but you just need to know what you’re diving into.”
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319