When seventh-grader Stefanie Gabler of Van Nuys began complaining of headaches in January, her parents thought that the cause might be the pressures of transferring to a new school.
But the problem turned out to be more frightening than they imagined: 13-year old Stefanie had two brain tumors.
Now, two surgeries and more than $1 million in medical bills later, the Gabler family is counting on Stefanie's new school, the Valley Schools in Van Nuys, to help them raise funds. On Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the private school will hold a benefit carwash for her at 15700 Sherman Way.
"We're not wealthy people, and we seem to be falling between the cracks right now," said Stefanie's father, Steven, adding that the family still owes about $200,000 not paid by insurance. "Her mother hasn't left the hospital for five months. She's given up her practice as a translator for the court system. I'm just working and trying to pay bills."
Even though they have only known her for one semester, Stefanie's new classmates and teachers are doing as much as they can to help. Since she entered Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles on Jan. 8, they have raised about $8,000.
"We really miss Stefanie a great deal," said Deborah Richmond, Stefanie's English teacher. "She really tried her best all the time. She has been a good example for the others."
Friends say Stefanie's recovery has been inspirational. Although she slipped into a coma once, lost her sight and suffered a stroke after two brain surgeries, the tumors are gone and she is now able to see, eat, walk and talk.
Steven Gabler said he is thankful for the support the family has received from the school. He and his wife, Sofia, said they have considered selling their home to pay the medical bills. But he said he would give up everything just to hear his daughter play the piano again.
"It doesn't matter what we end up with, as long as I get my little girl back," he said.