Community lends its hand for Laguna family

John Genesta doesn't consider himself a victim.

After an accident at the Sawdust Art Festival rendered him helpless, Genesta seems positive.

"You have to take life as it comes and hope for the best," he said over the phone Wednesday.

One fact has greatly touched him: the overwhelming support of the community, who will once again come together for a benefit concert Friday to aid Genesta, a Laguna Beach resident of 35 years, and his family with high medical expenses.

In June, while building his booth for the festival, Genesta fell off a ladder. He broke his neck, his back in two places, scapula and a rib, sustained a traumatic brain injury and lost 25% of his cognitive abilities.

Genesta, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said his bills will amount to about $1 million after spending 13 days in the ICU at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, and after two weeks in the hospital's rehab facility. At the time, the veterans hospital in Long Beach did not have any beds available or neurosurgeons, so Genesta could not be transferred there.

As a result, the hospital bills cannot be covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He has no other health insurance.

Genesta said he is currently negotiating with the VA to help pay for his bills, but cannot afford an attorney.

"I'm handling it myself and making sure every document gets to them," Genesta said.

Money has been extremely tight. Genesta and his wife, Lisa, made their living from the Sawdust and by selling antiques at the Rose Bowl Flea Market and online.

Lisa has been unable to continue working after being diagnosed in March with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that has greatly affected her eye muscles and requires her to rest. In addition, she's been dealing with lupus since 1991.

Now the Genestas, who have an 18-year-old son, Adam, are facing the possibility of leaving Laguna. Their home is in foreclosure. If they move out, they'd also lose the chance to be a part of the Sawdust, because only locals are allowed to exhibit.

"We rented a house in La Quinta in case we're told to leave," Lisa said. "If we have to move, we'll move. We're prepared for it."

Lisa said that the Sawdust and Laguna Beach communities have been extremely supportive and generous. She said the Artists' Benevolence Fund, funded by other artists through the Sawdust's auctions, gave them money when her husband was in the hospital.

"That's the saddest part of this [is possibly] leaving all of our old friends and new friends because we can no longer live here," Lisa said.

The Genestas have been big advocates of equal treatment for disabled children in schools ever since Adam was diagnosed with autism as a child. They participated in parent groups for disabled children and brought their issues to the school district's attention.

"I think it's amazing that my parents went to such lengths to help me get the proper education I deserved," Adam said during a phone interview Wednesday. "I felt honored when I got that education."

Adam, a freshman at Irvine Valley College who plans to major in theater, said he is prepared to transfer schools if he has to.

"Change is good," he said. "It's just stressful to see my parents stress out that I've started stressing out myself. I just want to see my parents happy."

Friday's benefit concert will include performances by the Salty Suites with Chelsea Williams and Pawnshop Kings. Adam will also sing and play guitar to original songs.

"Our gratitude far exceeds the words we can express it with," Lisa said. "It's just amazing to us that people care. We've never had this before. We've been very private prior to this, and we're just amazed with the outpouring of love."

Twitter: @coastlinepilot

If you go

What: Benefit concert for Genesta family

When: 6:30 to 11 p.m. Friday

Where: Three Arch Bay Business Building, 32406 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

Tickets: $20 to $100, depending on seats. There will also be a silent auction.

Information: (949) 573-8624

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