Seriously injured in car accident, Lizella fourth-grader is now an envoy for Children's Miracle Network

As Georgia’s ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, Ariel Fortson of Lizella will be representing the state in Florida and Washington, D.C., next week.

Wal-Mart and The Children’s Hospital, a service of The Medical Center of Central Georgia, made sure she’d be doing so in style. They treated 11-year-old Ariel to a $1,000 shopping spree Tuesday morning at the Wal-Mart on Zebulon Road.

Half of the money was for Ariel and her sister, 9-year-old Erin, to pick out toys for children who are currently hospitalized. The other half was given to Ariel to shop for her trip. Wal-Mart also donated a gift basket that included a digital camera and iPod.

“It was awesome!” Ariel exclaimed after her shopping trip.

Erin approved of her sister’s choices. “She got a lot of good stuff,” Erin said, pointing to a toy bowling set with milk bottles serving as pins as the favorite toy they bought.

It’s been a rough 20 months for the First Presbyterian Day School fourth-grader, who was badly injured in a car wreck in July 2007 that claimed the life of her mother, Vickie, and her 4-year-old sister, Tamara.

The family was returning from Florida when a tractor-trailer veered in front of them, causing the Fortsons’ Chevrolet Suburban to flip over several times and ejecting the entire family from the vehicle.

Ariel sustained a massive head injury, a punctured lung, severe internal injuries and a broken arm, said Missi Upshaw, a development officer for The Medical Center Foundation. Her brother, Victor, who was 3 months old at the time of the accident, also was hurt but is doing better now. Her father, Lamar, suffered a broken arm, a broken femur, a concussion and a separated shoulder. He has had to have surgery to reconstruct his hand. Only Erin escaped the accident with no physical injuries.

“We’re moving forward,” Lamar Fortson said. “I’m happy the kids are having some good things in their life. We’re overcoming this tragedy. That’s a good thing for us.”

Ariel has no memory of the accident, her father said. She’s doing pretty well now at this point in her life, he said. She has always had a quiet nature. “She writes and reads a lot,” he said. “She’s just a mild child, real easy-going.”

She’s also doing better physically and has gotten back into gymnastics, he said.

Upshaw, of The Medical Center Foundation, said the representatives from each state — called “champions” by the Children’s Miracle Network — serve as ambassadors for other sick and injured children. “She is speaking on behalf of Georgia,” Upshaw said. “She’s a good example of how the Children’s Hospital can do what it does, how we save and enhance lives whenever we can. She’s going to tell her story from her personal standpoint.”

The Children’s Miracle Network is a nonprofit organization that improves the lives of children by raising money for children’s hospitals across North America.

Ariel takes her role as a champion seriously. “It’s a great privilege,” she said. “It’s great. I can’t really explain it all that well, but I’m glad to be an ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network.”