Community lends its hand for Laguna family

John Genesta, a Vietnam veteran, fell off a ladder while setting up his booth at the Sawdust. The nearly $1-million medical bill since then has left his family in dire financial straits.

September 20, 2012|By Brittany Woolsey
  • John, a Vietnam War veteran, and Lisa Genesta sit with their son Adam in their Laguna Beach home. A benefit concert for John's hefty medical bills since falling off a ladder during the Sawdust Art Festival is set for Friday.
John, a Vietnam War veteran, and Lisa Genesta sit with… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

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.

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