Manatee Learning Academy to hold benefit for girl, 6, recovering from car accident

ejohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 25, 2013 

MANATEE -- Onicka Patterson smiled this week. She wrote her name. She blew and caught kisses. She gave a thumbs-up. And she ate pudding.

These menial tasks are all things that the 6-year-old girl used to do without even thinking. But they are actions her family thought she might never do again.

Onicka was airlifted to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg Dec. 19 when the uninsured driver of a pickup truck failed to yield when making a left turn at Cortez Road and 75th Street West, colliding with a vehicle driven by Onicka's mother, Donna Pearson.

"I think if she would've given up, I would've given up," Pearson said. "She's just doing so good; it's amazing. I don't think I would've been able to pull through something like that. She's showing everyone how much of a fighter she is."

And Onicka's not the only one battling obstacles as her family struggles for financial footing. Pearson has returned to work at a pet grooming business five days a week and stays with her two sons. Onicka's father, Tavarese Patterson Sr., has quit his job to stay with Onicka all but the two days that Pearson has off work.

The family has received an eviction notice at their home and is struggling to pay other bills. Pearson's vehicle

was totaled during the accident and she hasn't gotten a replacement. And Onicka is just at the beginning of a long road to recovery.

To alleviate some of those financial burdens, Manatee Learning Academy and Learning Unlimited, 6210 17th Ave. W., are hosting a benefit from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the school.

The day will start with a pancake breakfast. A hot dog meal will be available at lunch, as well as popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones.

Individuals have donated items for a yard sale and businesses in the community have provided gift cards to be given away in prize drawings. Tickets will be sold for a $1 each, 12 for $10 or 25 for $20. The event will also include unlimited games, bounce houses, face painting and other activities for $5 a child. All proceeds will go to Onicka's family.

"In 13 years of being a school we've never had anything like this happen," said Jessica LeBoff, owner of the private school where Onicka is a first-grader. "It really hit home that this could have been any one of us. They are genuine, good people that are now faced with this unfortunate circumstance. Right now their expenses shouldn't be the primary concern. Onicka needs to be the focus."

LeBoff said teachers and families have come together to volunteer time and donate items for the fundraiser for Onicka, who has been at the school and day care since she was 1. Students have drawn pictures, written letters and brought stuffed animals for their classmate.

Onicka's brothers, Julian, 4, and Tavarese Jr., 10, who were taken to Blake Medical Center for treatment after the accident, still attend classes there. Pearson was driving her children to school when her vehicle was struck.

Stacy Meeth, a bus driver for the school, was one of the first people to arrive on scene and call 911.

"Donna and I come in from the same way every morning. We usually wave while driving down the road," said Meeth, who finished her route and returned to the crash. "I was horrified. Everybody knew Donna's car. The minute I saw the car I knew it was them."

Pearson denied care to be with her daughter, whose brain had been exposed during the accident, in St. Petersburg. She also fractured vertebrae in her neck and back and suffered damage to her carotid artery.

Doctors removed part of Onicka's frontal lobe. Since then she has undergone numerous surgeries, been placed in an induced coma and suffered three strokes that have caused her right side to be paralyzed.

Doctors still do not know the extent of Onicka's injuries and expect her to be hospitalized for at least six more months, but on Christmas Eve they were able to tell the family that she would live.

LeBoff has visited Onicka several times at the hospital and did a video chat with her Monday.

"She recognized me, recognized my children," said LeBoff. "She got excited. The left side of her body was moving. She doesn't speak, but she's able to understand basic things."

Onicka is a little girl who loved animals, princesses, styling hair and playing at Chuck E. Cheese. She always kept her brothers in line, Pearson said.

"She loves dancing, drawing, riding her bike," said Sherri Buete, Pearson's first cousin. "All of these things seem like such simple child activities but she'll have to train herself to do those again."

Anyone interested in donating items for Saturday's benefit can call the school at 941-794-5838. Monetary donations can be made online at or to a fund established in Onicka Patterson's name at First Bank locations. There is also a Facebook page called "Prayers for Onicka" with more than 600 people following the girl's recovery.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.

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