Following a summer time accident, the Trauma department at Children’s Health℠ helps Hanna make a full recovery
For Hanna, age 11, and her family, July 2, 2016, started off just like any other Texas summer day. They were out at their friend’s house, the sun was out, and it was hot. The older kids had gone up to the barn to feed the horses while Hanna found refuge from the Texas heat in the shade of a tree. Though it’s not clear exactly how it happened, a John Deere Gator™ utility vehicle slipped out of gear and rolled down the hill towards Hanna, crushing her against the tree.
“The next thing we knew, one of the kids came running up to the house yelling, ‘Hanna!’” says Mart, Hanna’s father. “When we got to the tree, Hanna was standing up, but she was as white as a ghost.”
The family called 911, and an ambulance was dispatched. Fortunately, a PHI Air Medical helicopter happened to be in the area at the same time and headed their way as well.
“The helicopter was actually circling above us looking for a place to land as the ambulance pulled into the driveway,” Mart says.
Hanna had no external bleeding but was having difficulty breathing and a bright purple bruise was evident across her abdomen. The transport crews feared she may be suffering from internal bleeding, so Hanna was airlifted to Children’s Medical Center Dallas, the only Level I Trauma Center in North Texas caring specifically for children. Hanna received her first of what would be many blood transfusions while in flight.
Care that only Children’s Health can provide
A trauma team was waiting for Hanna in the ER when she arrived, and an initial CT scan revealed severe lacerations in her liver and her spleen, which were causing significant internal bleeding. However, due to the severity of her injuries, surgery was not considered the best option at the time. Instead, Children’s Health Interventional Radiology experts utilized state-of-the-art imaging technology and advanced techniques to go through an artery in her groin to insert coils in her liver and spleen that helped slow the bleeding and allow her blood to begin clotting on its own.
“It was then that we realized how serious her condition really was when even those who we considered to be some of the best surgeons in the world were hesitant to perform surgery because of the risks and implications if something didn’t go exactly as they expected,” says Hanna’s mom Tonya.
The procedure took three hours. Hanna was then transferred to the Trauma ICU, where she would stay for the next 38 days.
“Some days were harder than others - especially in the beginning,” says Tonya. “But the team of doctors and nurses were amazing.”
Hanna was sedated and intubated for the first four weeks as doctors hoped to give her body time to heal. Though the bleeding had slowed significantly, her abdomen kept filling with fluid, causing her to require continuous dialysis for three weeks. At one point, she had as many as a dozen lines in her, including several IVs, dialysis catheters, a PICC line and a feeding tube, to name a few. Still, the family held onto their hope, guided by their faith, that Hanna would be ok.
“We did a lot of praying,” says Mart. “But the level of competency and the level of compassion and mercy that everyone involved in her care displayed was just unbelievable.”
Beyond expert medical care
In addition to the medical care Hanna received by Children’s Health experts, another key player in her recovery came in the form of four furry paws and a wet nose. Boots, a lovable golden retriever, is part of the pet therapy program at Children’s Health. Boots and his handler, Child Life Specialist Stephanie Haynes, are dedicated solely to trauma patients. Tonya recalls that during one of their first meetings after Hanna came out of sedation, Boots instinctively hopped up on Hanna’s bed and laid by her feet.
“I remember Hanna just draping her legs over Boots as if to say, ‘Yep, this is right where you belong,’” says Tonya. “Boots was a huge deal to Hanna and was a welcomed visitor for our entire family.”
Throughout her hospitalization, Hanna and her family also grew close to Stephanie and other members of the Child Life team who helped address her concerns and questions about her experience. Whether it was arts and crafts, puzzles, games or even a special toy, the team worked hard to help Hanna feel more at ease.
“Hanna loves American Girl Dolls, so Stephanie worked hard to transform an American Girl Doll into Hanna, with all her lines, tracheostomy, feeding tubes and more to help her understand what was going on,” says Tonya. “It was so special to all of us, but especially Hanna. She still has that doll today and loves that they share the same scar from where their trachs used to be.”
A little girl grows stronger
Over time, Hanna grew strong enough to move out of the ICU and on Labor Day was transferred to Our Children’s House, Children’s Health’s pediatric inpatient rehabilitation facility. She was discharged on Oct. 7, three months after the incident, and her parents say that other than a few scars, it’s like it never even happened. She has no breathing issues or major lingering effects from her injuries and is otherwise back to her old self.
“She is our princess,” says Mart. “She likes to dress up, go shopping, play with her dolls and loves school. She’s very much a little girl.”
That little girl took a big step this Spring, attending sleep-away camp for the first time as a camper at Camp Phoenix, a camp specifically designated for children who have been trauma patients at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
“She had a blast,” says Mart. “Some of the same individuals who cared for her during her time at Children’s Health were there as counselors and volunteers, so it was great for her to reconnect with them as well.”
Of course, the happy reunions weren’t all just with her two-legged friends. As soon as she arrived, Hanna spotted another old friend in the distance, one who had laid by her side so many times during her journey and gave her the gentle nudges she needed to keep fighting - Boots!
Symbols of her courage
Understandably, Tonya says they didn’t take many photos of Hanna during her hospitalization. “Those images are burned into my memory already,” she says. “I didn’t need more than just a few pictures that Hanna can look back at to see what she went through.”
What they do have, however, are more than 700 Beads of Courage Hanna collected during her journey to represent different milestones or treatments. Children’s Health was the first pediatric hospital in the nation to introduce the Beads of Courage program in their Trauma Center. The program is designed to support children and families going through serious illnesses or medical events by giving them a tangible tool with which to tell their story. Patients may receive beads to denote a-number-of steps along their treatment journey, including a new IV, an X-ray taken or even a blood transfusion, among many others.
Hanna received more beads than any other patient in the Children’s Health Trauma Program to date. Although her mom is still not sure Hanna fully grasps the severity of all that she went through, she is grateful for the tangible way the beads empower her to share her story and help her understand how far she has come.
“Sometimes, I look at them and just start crying, but they truly are a representation of all that Hanna has overcome, which makes us incredibly grateful,” says Tonya.