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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 25, 2009

Wings for Mary
School rallies to raise funds to fly teacher’s ailing mother home from Egypt

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Keir Aspin is a teacher who learned a hard lesson six years ago. He’s drawing on that lesson now and sharing it with others.

His mother lies silent in a coma in Egypt. He and his brother, sister, and father are raising funds to fly her home.

“It was to be the trip of their lifetime,” said Judy Miller, one of Aspin’s colleagues at Farnsworth Middle School. Mary and Derek Aspin were going to tour the Nile and see the ancient pyramids.  But, after just two days in Egypt, Mary Aspin tripped on a stair in a Cairo museum, hitting her head. After stitches, she planned to continue the tour, but fell into a coma. That was in January. She’s still in Egypt.

“He’s a very private and very wonderful man,” Miller said of Aspin, whose seventh-grade social studies classroom is next to hers. “It’s just been a nightmare for the family. They need her to come home.”

Farnsworth has had several fund-raisers, said Miller, raising about $2,000. On a Casual for a Cause Friday, teachers paid to wear jeans, and, on another day, students paid a dollar each to wear hats. Also, the Guilderland Teachers’ Association recently held a fund-raiser.

Aspin said he is grateful that his mother is at an excellent hospital west of Cairo; Dar Al Fouad is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic. “It would rival Albany Med,” he said of the 10-year-old hospital.

Initially, Aspin said, “Everyone thought she would quickly come out of it.” But, he went on, “She’s made a sharp turn for the worse.” His mother has lost a lot of weight and has been on a ventilator for the past few weeks, Aspin said.

“We’re scrambling to get her home — begging, borrowing,” he said. “We’ve all e-mailed Oprah.” A Medi Flight, which he described as an intensive care unit in an airplane, will cost about $100,000, he said.

“With her health in the balance, we need to get her home as soon as possible,” said Aspin. “She really needs to be in a head trauma unit.”

Aspin, 42, has a brother, Neil, living in Rochester and a sister, Janet, who lives with her family in Cortland. Fund-raisers are being planned in both cities. Their father, a retired machine tool designer, lives in Rochester.

Derek Aspin helped design weapons that quickly ended the first Iraqi war, said Keir Aspin. Battleship guns at the Watervliet Arsenal were retooled as missiles “the size of cars,” he said, and used to smash bunkers. “Iraqi generals were in the bunkers; they needed bunker-busting bombs,” said Aspin.

A tour guide befriended Derek Aspin as he lived in Egypt to look after his hospitalized wife. “He was an interpreter. My father was a stranger in a strange land,” said Aspin.

 Relatives in England are also raising funds to bring Mary Aspin home. Keir Aspin and his siblings were born in England; both of their parents are British.

“She’s a Lancashire lass,” Aspin said of his mother. Mary Aspin grew up in a close family that ran a bakery. “She’s the salt of the earth. She’s her mother’s daughter...Everyone in our family will do anything for her,” said Keir Aspin. 

He described his mother as a housewife, devoted to her husband and family. She quilts, reads Agatha Christie mysteries, and bakes meat pies and shortbread like no one else. “She took care of all of us,” said Aspin.

“Beyond a miracle”

Aspin knows the importance of being cared for.

Six years ago, he went through the best of times and the worst of times. His wife, Theresa, gave birth to their daughter, Chapel Elspeth, named for the village where Aspin’s mother was born — Chapelhall. Soon after giving birth, Theresa Aspin suffered three strokes.

“I went from the birth of my daughter to this neurosurgeon. I said, ‘Should I call her mother?’ He said, ‘There’s a possibility your wife could die.’

“It could have broken me,” Aspin said resolutely. “It didn’t. It was a triumph for my family and me...

“In the darkest hours came my greatest days,” said Aspin. “I rose to the occasion. Friends rose to the occasion. We all leaned gracefully on each other.”

“My school went all out,” he said, remembering how he would come home and find the refrigerator filled.

“It was beyond a miracle,” Aspin said of his wife’s recovery.  After a month in the intensive care unit, she spent another month in Sunnyview for rehabilitation. “She’s retired, she can’t drive,” said Aspin. “But the silver lining is she can raise our daughter, Ellie.”

“You rise up”

Aspin, who has taught at Farnsworth for 11 years, doesn’t consider it work. “It’s like a home away from home,” he said. “ I never say I go to work. I say I go to school.”

In his current dilemma, he said, “The school has been very accommodating, and comforting for me...They’ve helped me lean gracefully. My students are wonderful.”

He didn’t share his mother’s plight with his students, Aspin said. He took comfort in the normalcy of his school days. “My students didn’t find out until a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

 Aspin is not someone who easily solicits help. “I find it hard to ask. That’s why I have friends like Judy Miller,” he said.

He did come up with a name for a fund for his mother to which colleagues and friends have been donating at the Citizens Bank in Delmar where he lives: Wings for Mary, Citizens Bank, 180 Delaware Ave., Delmar, NY  12054.

“‘Wings for Mary’ came to me,” said Aspin, describing how he thought up the name for the fund: “Weight that can lay on your shoulders can be the wings that carry you home. You rise up.”

Aspin wants to pass on that sense of hope that came to him six years ago in his darkest hour.

He concluded, “The worst is over. We’re getting her home now. That’s our goal. We’re focused. We’re looking for that miracle ticket.”

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