When Julianne was 15 years old, she begged her mom to let her miss one of her last two driver's education classes to take a summer trip to a lake in Arkansas. That trip took a tragic turn when Julianne was propelled off a jet ski into the bow of a boat, breaking every bone in her face and suffering a long list of traumatic injuries.
After Julianne's accident
Julianne was flown to an emergency department in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and then to a children's hospital where her parents, Caren and Jeff, drove to meet their daughter.
Julianne had broken her neck and jaw, and the nerves to her left arm were torn where they attach to the spinal cord. She also had a Hangman's fracture, where the spine is injured near its attachment to the skull. She had lost a tooth, injured her right eye and fractured her nose.
"They wouldn't let us see her," Caren says. "The team of doctors sewed her up and then showed us an X-ray of her face wide open – they said it was pulverized and totally crushed."
After two months, Julianne was released from the Arkansas hospital. She would need continued care, and her parents knew they needed to find the best specialists closer to home in Dallas. "The nerve doctor was the hardest one to find because there are not a lot who do it," Caren says.
The family interviewed specialists and found their dream team, with nerve reconstruction surgery performed by Jonathan Cheng, M.D., Chief of Hand Surgery in the Congenital and Pediatric Hand Surgery Program at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern. Dr. Cheng and his colleague, Robert Rinaldi, M.D., Division Chief of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, co-lead the Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve multidisciplinary team at Children's Health.
Multidisciplinary care for a complex case
On her road to recovery, Julianne has seen many professionals at Children's Health. At her appointments, she not only consults with Dr. Cheng, but also Christopher Derderian, M.D., craniofacial surgeon and facial reconstruction specialist and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. Other specialties have included neurosurgery, ophthalmology, dentistry and hand/occupational therapy.
Occupational Therapist Jessica Johnson, part of the Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve team, is a certified hand therapist who has worked with Julianne weekly to improve fine-motor skills with specialized exercises and movements. She also oversees Julianne's facial neuromuscular retraining, working on facial expressions to achieve smile symmetry.
"We work on retraining her to use her (nerve) transfers to allow her arm to function at its highest potential," Jessica says. "We strengthen her upper body with weights to give her greater independence with self-care. She has received adaptive equipment to give her greater independence with her activities of daily living (ADLs) particularly since she is heading off to college soon. All of our time together has allowed me to know her better. I have witnessed growth in her independence, confidence and motivation."
Julianne feels excited about the improvements. "I am more motivated to do a lot of things," she says.
Looking back to a dire prognosis
Doctors in Arkansas had warned Julianne that she would not see out of her right eye or be able to smell or hear. However, these predictions did not prove to be true.
"There were a lot of doubts, and a lot of ups and downs in the beginning," Julianne says.
The most devastating news she heard in those early days was that she would never play volleyball again. As a competitive player, traveling all over the country to compete at the highest level, practicing four days a week for her entire childhood, this crushed her dreams of playing in college.
"It broke my heart," Julianne says. But with support, Julianne was able to refocus on new goals for her future.
"This made her focus on school and what she wants to do in life," Caren says. "There is a reason why this happens, and why she needed to take a different road."
Back to school and focused on the future
Julianne returned to school in 2017 along with her classmates in Dallas. "It was really hard with the school work and the surgeries and appointments," says Caren. But now, two years later, Julianne graduated with her class and will attend college in the fall.
One of Julianne's best memories from high school was serving as the volleyball team manager during their journey to the state championship her senior year, even passing the ball to players at practices. But it's academics that she's most passionate about. Julianne hopes to become an anesthesiologist one day. She's had her mind set on this since before the accident.
"I love surgeries," says Julianne. "I watched my arm surgery online and have watched rhinoplasty and craniofacial surgery."
As the mother of a graduating senior, Caren says, "My favorite quote was always, 'Reach for the moon because even if you miss you are still among the stars.' This is an excellent quote for Julianne. She never quits and knows her goals. She has always been a go-getter and pushes herself more than anyone. She is definitely the strongest person we know!"
The Fogelson Plastic Surgery and Craniofacial Center and the Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve multidisciplinary team at Children's Health provide expert diagnosis and treatment for children of any age. Our multidisciplinary approach offers unparalleled access to the world's leading specialists in pediatric reconstruction and rehabilitation. Learn more about our program and services.
Children’s Health Family Newsletter
Get health tips and parenting advice from Children’s Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month. Sign up now.