On July 6, Gia Joy, Heather and Mike Gehringer were met by a crowd of well-wishers upon their return home to Bishop after a seven-month stay at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where the toddler successfully completed treatment for cancer.
About 30-40 friends and family, carrying homemade signs and balloons, had waited nearly an hour on the street outside the Gehringers’ home, unsure of the family’s exact arrival time.
“The love was definitely apparent,” Gia’s maternal grandfather Howard Lehwald said.
One of the many signs at the “welcome home hugging party had the acronym for Gia’s name, God Is Awesome,” Lehwald said. The fence was festooned with banners, streamers and flowers and the sign on the house shouted, “Mike, Heather and Gia … Welcome home, Gia Joy!”
“We told two or three people but the word got out,” maternal grandmother Cindy Lehwald said. “It was heartwarming and joyous.”
When the Gehringers arrived at 6:40, the assemblage cheered, chanted, hugged and cried; a spontaneous chant of “We love Gia” arose. But the crowd kept its distance. By not hugging and kissing the trio as they wanted to do, the crowd respected Gia’s immune system, which is compromised by chemotherapy and other treatments, Howard Lehwald explained.
Gia’s mother, Heather Gehringer, said she had started crying as the family came into Bishop, “overcome with emotion at (the sight) of the beautiful, green, lush new season for Bishop, and for us.” When they left town in winter, everything was dark and cold, literally and figuratively.
Gehringer said, “We were very surprised and unaware when we saw the crowd in the distance.” Gia reacted alternately shyly and with smiles and clapping. After 20 minutes, the family went inside where Gia went from room to room, clapping, squealing and touching her possessions.
Gehringer said the family’s “journey is far from over,” however. Gia will return to Children’s Hospital every two months for the first year to check for chemo-related and other issues, Gehringer said, then every three months for the second year. If all goes well, if “her changes improve considerably in the second year … She will be monitored for a few years after that.” For now, Gia’s “doctors’ prognosis is wonderful, good and positive. She is really considered cured.
“I can’t say enough; our words fall short of how everyone has embraced us.” Both locally and around the U.S. and the world, the Gehringers have received hundreds of posts on Gia’s Facebook.com page, tens of thousands of dollars in donations, continuous prayers and many care packages of stickers, dolls and other toys. Gehringer said the family thanks everyone who reached out, embraced and supported them throughout the treacherous journey. “Mike and I are so thankful to all our doctors at Children’s Hospital and to the Ronald McDonald House organization. And our number one thanks is to God.”