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Students pray for SMC senior in car accident

Megan O'Neil | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Nearly a week after she was seriously injured in a car accident, Saint Mary’s senior Leslie Orlando remained in critical condition in an Erie, Penn. hospital Tuesday, as the College community offered prayers and concern.

Orlando suffered serious injuries after she lost control of her vehicle and crashed while driving home from South Bend to Erie on Feb. 2.

There were no other cars involved in the accident. She was 40 minutes from her house, said her father, Gregory Orlando.

“The weather conditions were very bad,” Gregory Orlando said. “It was very dark, very rainy, some fog, a couple of times she had pulled off the road.”

The crash left Leslie Orlando with head trauma, multiple fractures in her pelvis, a broken arm, lung injuries and three broken ribs, Gregory Orlando said. She spent two days in an intensive care unit (ICU) in Erie and then was moved to the hospital’s trauma ward Feb. 4.

Doctors operated on his daughter’s arm Feb. 3, Gregory Orlando said. They managed to keep swelling and bleeding near the brain under control.

A prayer service to light candles for Leslie Orlando drew about 50 students to Holy Spirit Chapel in LeMans Hall Tuesday night.

“She is making progress but she is having a very difficult time,” Gregory Orlando said. “She had a very bad day today … [She is in] lots of pain.”

Leslie Orlando is currently on a morphine drip and has been in and out of consciousness since the accident. Although she is unable to talk, Gregory Orlando said his daughter has been able to recognize family members.

“She is starting to understand the gravity of the situation, the fact that she will not be returning to school this year,” Gregory Orlando said.

Gregory Orlando said it was a “miracle” his daughter survived the crash and said her rehabilitation will take four to six months. He has been in communication with College officials, who have been very cooperative.

“She was very fortunate, and it is just going to take a lot of time,” Gregory Orlando said. “We all hope she can come back in the fall but that is all up in the air.”

Director of Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry Judy Fean spoke at the prayer service and said Leslie Orlando’s accident calls her friends and family to have a deeper trust in God’s love for them.

Fean referenced one of several Gospel passages read during the service that described how a woman who suffered from hemorrhaging was healed by her faith in Jesus after she reached out and touched His cloak.

“We are being asked to trust in the power of God’s love and healing,” Fean said.

Word of Leslie Orlando’s accident began spreading on campus over the weekend by word of mouth and through e-mail.

“My initial reaction was just shock and disbelief, and uneasiness because I didn’t know exactly what had happened,” senior Lisa Grano said.

Friends organized quickly to send messages of support to the Orlando family, and Grano worked with senior class president Lauren Condon and members of Campus Ministry to prepare the prayer service. The English Department requested that students sign a card for the English writing major.

Classmates said Leslie Orlando is famous for her flashing smile and glamorous hair, and many said they were saddened at the prospect of going through Senior Week and graduation without her.

“I’ll miss going out with her, hanging out with her, the late nights at Taco Bell,” Grano said. “I will miss her stories, her animated stories. We were never bored when we were with Leslie.”

Friends are in the midst of organizing a letter-writing project in which different classmates will take turns writing Leslie Orlando every week. Senior Casey Campe described her as “too stubborn” to let her injuries hold her down.

“A small group of us are talking about going up there [to visit] in two weeks if she can handle it,” Campe said.

Senior Michelle Fitzgerald said Leslie Orlando is “one of the most beautiful people” she knows.

“All of her friends are praying for her health and recovery daily while remaining strong for each other,” Fitzgerald said. “She will truly be missed and my second semester senior year will not be the same without her.”