Corliss Clayton, “Fernando’s Call,” Friend, Oct 2000, 2
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Fernando Gaertner grew up in Brazil. When he was fifteen, his family moved to the United States. He made a lot of new friends, learned a new language, and was enjoying his life in a new country.
Four years ago, he was preparing to submit his mission papers. Then one day while he was lifting weights, his world collapsed. A blood clot in his brain caused him to have a major stroke. His doctors doubted that he would live. The part of his brain that controlled his muscles was severely damaged. He could not move. He could not speak or even breathe on his own.
His ward fasted and prayed for him, and Fernando lived. Eventually he came home from the hospital, but he was still unable to move or speak. His parents, Vilmar and Noeli Gaertner, and his therapists worked tirelessly with him. Fernando grew closer to Heavenly Father as he depended on Him to get through each day. Life was now very serious for Fernando, and he took nothing for granted, especially the gospel. While Fernando worked hard at recovering physically, he also studied the gospel. He learned patience and faith as each new ability took months to develop. After much effort, he was able to sit in a wheelchair. The first time he was able to attend church, tears filled Fernando’s and the ward members’ eyes.
Then in January 1999, the Lindon 17th Ward, Lindon Utah Stake, was created. The new ward members didn’t talk much to Fernando. He was just beginning to speak again, and his words were not clear and came very slowly.
The leaders of the new ward, however, felt very strongly that President Gordon B. Hinckley’s directive that new members of the Church need “a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’ (Moro. 6:4)”* applied to all the members of their newly formed ward—including Fernando. He was called to be the Primary greeter. That calling has been a great blessing in his life and in the lives of the children in his ward.
Fernando welcomes each child and adult to Primary. “The first time he was there,” said Sister Terris, a counselor in the Primary, “the Spirit was so strong that I had tears in my eyes. He was so excited about his calling!”
That first Sunday Fernando struggled to speak and shake hands with everyone. But each week, his arms and hands grew a little stronger and his speech became a little clearer.
“Even though the little kids don’t always understand him,” Tasha Hansen (11) said, “they feel his spirit and pay attention. You really feel it.”
“He’s nice,” Britton Green (6) added. “He always gets so excited when he sees us.”
“And he knows my name,” Cade Terris (7) said.
“The calling as a greeter let me get to know the little children,” Fernando pointed out. “They are the greatest! Then I got to know their parents. They are all my friends now.”
The children are very comfortable around Fernando because they know that he loves them. Once, the Primary chorister asked him to hold up a poster for a song. Fernando tried, but he did not have the strength to do it. One by one, the children came up and encircled him so that he could rest the chart in his lap and they could still see it.
As they came to know him better, the children wanted to help him recover. They wanted to help him fulfill his desire to serve the Lord with all his heart. They wanted him to be able to serve a mission, which he still hopes to do one day.
“The children are always there to help me. I’m learning to speak better because they are always speaking to me,” he said.
“At first, sometimes I would know what he was going to say and answer him before he finished,” Tasha Hansen said. “But I don’t do that now because I know that he needs to practice talking.”
“Once I walked into Primary and he gave me a special handshake,” Jake Green (9) said. “Now he does it with all the boys.” The children created other new handshakes to help Fernando strengthen all the different muscles in his hands.
One Sunday, when Fernando entered the Primary room dressed as Abinadi, the children suddenly quieted down. Knowing how hard it is for him to speak, they know that each word is important.
Now Fernando has also been called to help teach two classes of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. “He’s getting really good at talking,” said Tori Hansen (11).
But Fernando isn’t the only one with new responsibilities in his ward. Families and individuals, including Primary children, have been asked to help with his therapy. They listen to him read, play with him to exercise his muscles, and talk with him. Or they may take him walking.
Jake Green enjoys playing Chinese checkers with him, “but Fernando always wins. He’s too good!”
“It’s quite a sight when we take Fernando walking,” the Terris family laughs. “We squeeze everyone and everything into the car—his wheelchair, his walker, Fernando, and, of course, all of our family. Then we drive to the place where we walk.”
Once the Green family was walking with Fernando by the Provo River. He stood by a fence and threw a stone into the water. It gave him such pleasure to at last be able to stand balanced against the fence and throw a rock, that Britton and Jake picked up several more stones for him to throw.
“We feel good when we help him,” Jake explained.
“The first time I saw him walk with his walker was really special,” Sammy Whirley (7) said. “We have also tried flying kites. We still need to work on that.”
Shayly Terris (11) was asked to read with him and help him practice pronouncing words. “He asked me questions, and I got to know him better. After we finished reading, my mom and I went to help him get back into bed, and he fell and hit his head. He just said, ‘Shhhh, don’t tell Mom.’ He never complains!”
“He helps me look at other people in wheelchairs differently,” Eddie Terris (14) said. “They really can do a lot of things!”
Meagan Hansen (15) remembered the first time her family took him walking at the track. “There is a chain that prevents people from driving cars onto the track. My Dad asked Fernando, ‘How do you get over that?’ ‘I jump,’ he answered. Dad gave him a look, and Fernando said, ‘Seriously.’ So we wheeled him up to the chain and waited to see what he would do. He just lifted the chain up and rolled under it.”
Conner Hansen (8) said, “Sometimes I think my problems are really bad, but when I look at Fernando’s problems, I don’t complain.”
The Hansens add, “No matter what comes up, we don’t miss walking with Fernando. He’s amazing! He helps us keep an eternal perspective. It’s the best thing we do each month.”
Fernando works hard every single day to improve. “I always believed I would get better. I just take it one day at a time.”
“In time he will get better,” Talmage Hansen (11) declared. “He believes it, and so do I.”
Having so many friends in the ward who love and help him, and knowing that he is an invaluable influence in their lives, has helped Fernando continue trying. His strong spirit and testimony have spiritually strengthened those who have helped him strengthen his physical body.
Fernando may have to wait to serve a full-time mission, but he is touching the lives of the Primary children in his ward right now by his example of faith, patience, and trust in the Lord. And they are touching his with their patience, love, and service. “I hope that the children know that they really can help others,” he said.
[photos] Photographed by Corliss Clayton
[photo] Fernando Gaertner
[photo] As Abinadi (above)
[photo] Jake Green gives Fernando a push (left).
[photo] With some of the members who walk with him. From left to right: Sydney Green, Sister Green, Britton Green, Jake Green, Fernando, Sammy Whirley, Colson Whirley, and Sister Whirley (page 2).
[photo] One of Fernando’s Primary classes (above).
[photo] With Sammy and Colson Whirley (above right).
[photo] A handshake that heals (right).^ Back to top