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Quadruple Amputee's Family Pleads For Help

The family of Decatur-area resident Hannah Rinehart asked the Gwinnett School Board to create a sick leave pool that would benefit her husband, but they left the meeting with no promises.

A Decatur-area man who teaches in Gwinnett County Schools is asking the Gwinnett School Board to change its sick leave policy so he can spend more time with his wife, who has had both hands and feet amputated because of a rare infection.

, capnocytophaga, that caused her organs to shut down. In order to keep blood flowing to her vital organs, doctors prescribed medication that diverted it from her extremities. The 32-year-old woman both hands and feet amputated.

Mark Rinehart, her husband, is a math teacher at South Gwinnett High School. He now has a little over 20 days of sick leave left before he loses his pay and his insurance.

According to family, that’s not nearly enough time. Last week, they asked the Gwinnett School Board to allow fellow teachers to donate their unused paid time off (PTO) to him.

Although no official promises were given, school board members said they are looking into what can be done.  They individually expressed compassion and a desire to see the right thing done, though in what respect remains unsure.

At the meeting, Doug Johnson, Hannah's father, said: “I would like to speak to you simply as a dad. As a little girl, she would run and jump into my arms and give me a great big hug. Unfortunately that little girl no longer has hands or feet. In fact, she is currently fighting for her life in the ICU of Northside hospital.”

Follow the Rinehart family at Hope4Hannah, their official Facebook page

Her father said that she is still very sick and having difficulty with her lungs. A three-time cancer survivor, she can pull through this like she has done in the past, he said.  

"She’s a fighter," he said. "She's always done a good job at doing whatever it took; she plugged along with all the cancer. She knew it was something she needed to do, and she did it."

Her youngest brother, Michael Johnson, donated the bone marrow that helped save Hannah's life when she had Hodkins Lymphoma.   

David Johnson, another of Hannah's brothers, has taken on the role of warrior for his sister and brother-in-law and . 

“We’ve been told by family of quadruple amputees that Mark needs to be there for the next six months,” he said. “He has to figure out how he’s going to love his wife; by being there for her, or by providing a paycheck and insurance.”

Although David Johnson has had private meetings with Human Resources, he doesn’t feel like they understand what they are asking. They have offered to let Rinehart work two days a month, which would allow him to keep his insurance, or transfer to another department. 

“This seems like a really easy decision,” he said. “Mark’s not trying to get out of work to be with his sick wife; he has to be there.”

During the public comment portion of the evening, David Johnson said that “Hannah must have Mark by her side if she is going to recover.  She is currently sedated, but each time she opens her eyes she is asking for Mark.”

Other teachers at South Gwinnett have offered to donate their unused PTO (paid time off), but there is no system in place for that. Other counties, including Doughtery and Evans, have a sick bank for situations like these. Even the State of Georgia and University of Georgia have a sick leave bank. 

“State representatives, a state senator, legislative attorneys for the State House and others have concluded that there is no legal impediment prohibiting GCPS from adopting this new policy immediately,” said David Johnson.  “By allowing GCPS employees to donate their PTO hours to teachers in need, the school system will be setting a wonderful example for other systems and employers throughout the state.

“This request is legal, it is fair, and it is in the power of GCPS to make it a reality.”

In 2010, Gwinnett County Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks received a payout for unused sick leave.  He received $176.15 per hour of unused sick days, according to a 2010 report in the AJC, totaling $18,143.  Other superintendents have been reimbursed similarly. 

“We earned this sick leave,” said Donna Aker, president of Gwinnett County Association of Educators. “It’s calculated in the county’s budget, and part of the school budget.  We can use it as we deem necessary.  It’s ours to give.  Sick leave donation is not against any law, federal, state or local.”  

The Rineharts have a long road ahead, with many immediate needs. The home they live in in Decatur is much too small to accomodate Hannah's needs once she leaves the hospital, and they will encounter many medical expenses.  

To make a donation through Operation Appreciation, visit the website set up in Hannah's honor.

Elizabeth Carrillo August 24, 2012 at 11:59 AM
I would not have been able to care for my husband during his illness had it not been for the support given to me by my co-workers who donated their time for me. The system has nothing to lose, the days are there, just being used by a different person. They have bigger things to worry about. They can't be serious...it's a no-brainer..
Donna August 24, 2012 at 02:52 PM
As an ex Gwinnett Schools employee I contributed a portion of my sick leave to the system sick leave bank and in return would be able to use it if I ever needed to. I doubt the system would let someone join retroactively which is the problem. I hope they can find a way to make an exception.
David Johnson August 25, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Mark is a member of the sick leave bank. But since he is not the one who is sick, rather his spouse, he cannot use it.

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