Teresa Johnston saw a lull in the storm Friday afternoon and decided to perform an act of kindness that by then had become a tradition.
The 13-year-old stepped out of her home in Irvine to walk the dogs for her elderly neighbor.
She never made it to her neighbor’s house.
As the teenager walked across an open area in her Irvine condo complex, yellow umbrella in hand, wind gusts knocked down a 50-foot tree, which struck her.
She underwent brain surgery on Monday and was still in a deep coma Tuesday, said her father, Roch Johnston.
“The people in the neighborhood all call her sunshine,” Johnston said. “When [the rain] eased up, she wanted to run over and walk these dogs for an elderly lady. She loves her like a grandmother.”
At least five people died of drowning, electrocution or injuries from car crashes throughout Southern California as a result of the weekend’s storm, which meteorologists called the worst that the region had seen in years.
In Irvine, a neighbor heard the tree fall and called police, Johnston said. The neighbor put a pillow under Teresa’s head, covered her with a blanket and held an umbrella over her until firefighters came, the girl’s father said.
Firefighters were able to pull Teresa out from under the tree without moving any branches or digging her out, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz.
“It definitely had … created a major trauma,” Kurtz said.
Meanwhile, Teresa’s family was inside their home, unaware that she was en route to the hospital. They started to get worried when she wasn’t back after an hour.
“She is so, just, like clockwork on responsibility,” Johnston said. They called the neighbor, who said Teresa had never showed up Friday.
“That’s when our radar went up,” he said.
Teresa is the fourth of seven children. Their oldest son immediately started praying, Johnston said, while he and another son ran out into the rain to look for her. They came across a police officer who came to their home and confirmed that Teresa was the victim who had been taken to the hospital.
Teresa’s oldest sister set up a fundraising page to help pay for her medical expenses. The page describes the severe injuries to her head and brain. Teresa is in the intensive care unit, and doctors won’t know the likelihood of her surviving or how badly she was affected until she wakes up, her father said.
Teresa’s 14th birthday is March 1, Johnston said. He expects that the family will try to celebrate it in the hospital.
Just a few days before the crash, Johnston said, Teresa wrote a poem in a Valentine’s Day card to her mother.
“In that poem she says how much she loves her and that she’d gladly give her life for her,” Johnston said, his voice cracking.
“Is that her goodbye note?”