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Driver accused of trying to flee, hitting two cars
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A Sanford driver trying to avoid being pulled over Monday by a Lee County deputy on Tramway Road crashed at the Center Church Road intersection, hitting two vehicles, seriously injuring another driver, authorities said.

Clifton Donyell McIver Jr., 19, of 3131 Carbonton Road, is charged with felony speeding to elude arrest, possessing a stolen firearm and numerous traffic violations, according to Capt. Brian Estes of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

The unidentified deputy was traveling on Tramway Road about 12:30 p.m. when an oncoming car, driven by McIver, passed by at a high rate of speed, Estes said.

The deputy turned around, intending to stop McIver, but he (McIver) accelerated and sped away, Estes said.

As McIver’s car crossed U.S. 1 onto Center Church Road, he lost control, crossed the center line and struck two vehicles traveling in the opposite direction, according to First Sgt. Chris Knox of the N.C. Highway Patrol, which is investigating the wreck.

McIver’s car then caught fire, but he and an unidentified passenger were able to get out of the vehicle safely, Knox said.

Tramway Rural Fire Department firefighters arrived quickly and extinguished the flames and helped free the injured woman from her vehicle, which ended up in a wooded area about 50 feet off the road.

The other drivers were not identified, but one was airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with serious, but not life-threatening injuries, Knox said. The second driver refused medical treatment.

A stolen gun was found in McIver’s car, Estes said.

The crash is still being investigated, Knox said.

Center Church Road was closed for several hours to allow an accident reconstructionist to investigate.

Rotary clubs donate $1K to Sanford Fire Department
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The Sanford and Jonesboro rotary clubs, along with Rotary District 7690, recently donated $1,000 to the Sanford Fire Department for new equipment.

With the money, the department purchased a portable charger that reconditions radio batteries to extend their life and monitors the charge of each battery. The equipment allows firefighters to replace radio batteries before a problem arises, according to a city news release.

The donation was made by the Rotary Clubs’ Honoring Emergency/First Responders Opportunity Project, which “seeks to acknowledge and understand the importance in recognizing those men and women who work and volunteer around the clock to ensure public safety where we live,” the release stated.

A check was presented last month to Sanford Fire Chief Wayne Barber and Deputy Chief Ken Cotten.

Michele Bullard, chair of the Jonesboro Rotary Club Project, recalled working with local firefighters as a member of the Lee County Red Cross.

“I arrived to help a family shortly after a house fire had been extinguished. One of the firefighters showed me where his helmet and turnout gear had started to melt from the heat of the blaze,” she said. “I have the highest admiration for our firefighters.”

12-year-old in need of kidney transplant
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At age 12, Bryson Oest is in the fight of his life.

Bryson was diagnosed at age 5 with disease that causes scarring in his kidneys, keeping them from functioning properly.

In fact, on Feb. 9, Bryson had both kidneys removed in surgery at UNC Hospitals. His doctors determined they were doing more harm than good, according to Casey Oest, Bryson’s mother.

“They told his kidneys were failing and in his condition, that the best option was to remove both of them,” she said.

Now, Bryson undergoes hemodialysis each night in his home. The treatment uses a dialysis machine and a special filter that acts as a kidney that’s used to clean his blood.

Bryson needs a kidney transplant, according to Casey and her husband, Chase Oest, who works with Central Electric Membership Corp.

No one is sure what caused his kidneys to malfunction, but he was a healthy child until he was 5, Casey said.

“My face just got real puffy and they thought it was an allergic reaction,” Bryson said. “My mom took me to the pediatrician and they me to go to the hospital and when I to the hospital, that’s where they diagnosed me.”

The Oests have burned the highway between their home in rural northeastern Lee County since then, Casey said.

She has to do that and take care of the couple’s other three children, too.

Initially, Bryson was prescribed steroid drugs, but he proved resistant to them, Casey said.

“We went back and forth with that about six months,” she said. “He had a real bad flare up and was in a lot of pain, so we rushed him to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill.”

A biopsy was done and doctors determined that Bryson suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a form of nephrotic syndrome that causes scarring in the kidneys, keeping them from working properly.

“By the time he was six was about when we had the full diagnosis and a full plan of medicines,” Casey said.

For the time being, Bryson took medications and watched his diet, especially his sodium intake. At school, a special plate was prepared for him and administrators kept a daily record of his sodium intake.

Doctors had warned that the disease likely would become worse as Byron entered puberty.

That began in late 2019 and early 2020, Casey said.

“They told us things could get rocky at puberty,” she said. “That’s when they’d know if he needed a transplant. We just kind of hoped for the best.”

Then, Bryson had a sudden flare-up and the roller coaster ride began, Casey said.

He had a short stay in UNC Hospital between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said.

“We took him for labs and they called Jan. 1 and said that we needed to pack bags and prepare for a seven-day stay, that he was in full kidney failure,” Casey said.

“They said he would be getting hemodialysis and it was time to talk about going on the transplant list.”

Since that news, Casey and Chase guessed that they have spent a little more than three weeks at home.

“It’s just been total back and forth,” she said.

Doctors met with the Oests and talked about removing Bryson’s kidneys. Leaving one of his kidneys could prove dangerous, according to Casey.

Byron took the news well.

“I would just have to deal with it,” he said.

And so the kidneys were removed.

While Bryson will need a transplant, he has to complete certain steps before he can be put on a list, Casey said.

“You have to meet certain qualifications. They’ve done all the lab work so they can find a match with a living donor, but they can’t do the transplant now,” she said.

Bryson is still in the orientation process as he and his parents meet with counselors, therapists, doctors and a financial advisor, Casey said.

Insurance will pick up most of the costs, Chase said, but the Oests will have to be able to cover 20% of the transplant cost.

Through it all, Bryson has remained matter-of-fact. He says, jokingly, that he can’t eat food because he has to watch his intake of sodium and phosphorus.

The family has adopted “Bryson Strong” as a rallying cry and has T-shirts and face masks with the logo on them.

A GoFundMe page has been set up in an effort to raise $30,000 for the family. As of Monday, $6,050 had been raised.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is selling raffle tickets for firearms, a griddle and a Yeti cooler. The drawing is April 5. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20. They are available at the Carolina Trace Fire Department or can be ordered at brysonstrong2021@gmail.com.

Anyone who is interested in donating a kidney can go to living donors@unchealth.unc.edu and www.uncmedicalcenter.org/living donors.

Those interested can fill out forms to determine whether they are a match to Bryson. The Oests urge anyone wanting to donate to step up. While a person might not be a match for Bryson, there could be a cross-match with another person needing a kidney, Casey said.

One the forms are complete, call Amy Woodard, R.N., at 984-974-7568 for more information.

COVID-19 cases declining, vaccine registration reopens

The number of COVID-19 cases in Lee County leveled off Monday with 44 new cases reported since last week, according to the Lee County Health Department.

The weekly increase was on par with the 40 cases reported in the first week of March. That week represented the first since December that the number of new cases was less than 100, perhaps marking a turning point in the pandemic.

This week’s additional cases brings the total to 5,549 Lee County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The county’s rate of positive tests has dropped to 3.4% from 6.9% last week, after hovering around 10-12% in January. As the number of new cases slows, no new deaths have been reported. The total remains 73, with the last deaths reported Feb. 26.

The Lee County Health Department also reopened vaccine registrations Monday a week after shutting down its call center and online pre-registration process due a low supply of vaccine.

Currently, people who are eligible to get the vaccine include those in groups 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the state’s rollout plan. Generally, those are health care workers, staff and residents of elder care facilities, people 65 or older, people with pre-existing medical conditions and essential workers.

Group 4 makes more essential workers eligible for the vaccine, including people who work in chemical plants, hotels, retail stores, information technology, national security, energy, financial services, hazardous materials, hygiene services, public works, real estate and water.

Registrations and pre-registration forms from people not yet eligible for the vaccine will not be accepted, a county news release stated. People in group 5 will be required to re-register once vaccine eligibility has been expanded.

The county is currently administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and has not yet received any doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the release stated. People cannot choose wish vaccine to get.

To register in Lee County, call 919-842-5744 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit leecountync.gov/covid19 to preregister online. People who preregister online should expect a phone call from county staff within five days to complete the registration process.

Visit findmygroup.nc.gov to find out if you are eligible for the vaccine.

Pfizer moves forward with gene therapy facility
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Biopharmaceutical company Pfizer is on track to begin manufacturing new gene therapies at its Sanford facility this year as work continues on its expansion, according to company spokesman Eamonn Nolan.

The first part of the state-of-the-art facility was completed in early 2019, with production of gene therapies beginning later that year. Since then, Pfizer has been manufacturing clinical supplies for gene therapies to treat hemophilia A, hemophilia B, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Nolan said.

The company is now preparing to produce other products at a clinical scale with the facility’s existing equipment and staff, Nolan said.

In the meantime, builders are hard at work expanding the facility from 25,000 to 125,000 square feet, a $500 million project expected to be complete by the end of 2022.

By the end of this year, the expanded facility should be partially online with staff producing gene therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy on a commercial scale, Nolan said.

So far, Pfizer has hired about 190 people for commercial production, and plans to hire up to 300 more once the expanded facility is complete, Nolan said.