One year ago, 10-year-old Ariah was hit by a car while walking home from school and suffered a devastating brain injury. She was rushed to Cincinnati Children’s for life-saving care. After two months of inpatient care at the medical center and ongoing physical therapy, Ariah, now 11, is back in school with her friends and getting better every day.
It was a call parents pray they never get.
Kizzy Denson was getting ready to go to work one afternoon last May when her phone rang to deliver unthinkable news: Her 10-year-old daughter, Ariah, had been struck by a car while walking home from school, just blocks away.
Panic-stricken, Kizzy ran out the door and down the street to where Ariah lay on the sidewalk, surrounded by paramedics and neighbors. Ariah was semi-conscious and was trying to raise her head.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Kizzy says. “I was hysterical and couldn’t think rationally – everything slowed down. I remember crying, and one of the medics came over to try to calm me down.”
The next moments were a terrifying blur. The ambulance rushed Ariah to Cincinnati Children’s, where the staff of the Emergency Department worked quickly to stabilize Ariah and assess her injuries.
Cincinnati Children’s takes a multidisciplinary approach to care, bringing together experts from multiple areas to provide the best possible care for patients. Trauma patients benefit from the combined efforts of emergency room physicians and nurses, pediatric trauma surgeons, radiology and imaging, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, among others. As the only Level I pediatric trauma center in the Tristate, Cincinnati Children’s offers the most comprehensive care available to patients like Ariah.
Amazingly, the only broken bones were Ariah’s upper and lower jaws. But a CAT scan revealed that the impact of the car had caused severe damage to Ariah’s brain.
“I cried when I saw the CAT scan,” Kizzy says. Ariah’s brain injury was so devastating that the doctor gently prepared her for the possibility that Ariah, despite all their best efforts, might not survive.
“She didn’t look broken on the outside, but she was broken on the inside,” Kizzy says.
Devastating Injury, Life-Saving Care
Ariah’s injury was causing excess fluid to build up in her brain and needed surgery to insert a drain to relieve the swelling.
The Pediatric Neurosurgery Division at Cincinnati Children's is the largest and most comprehensive pediatric neurosurgery program in the region, providing care to more than 1,000 patients and 3,500 outpatients each year. The world-renowned neurosurgeons and their staff offer unparalleled pre- and postoperative care for infants, children, teenagers and young adults.
Kizzy still marvels at the thoughtfulness of Ariah’s care team at that time.
“Whoever prepared Ariah for that surgery was really thinking about the outcome later,” Kizzy says. “Ariah has a lot of hair – it is her crowning jewel. They just removed a small square of her hair where they inserted the drainage tube. They didn’t shave her whole head, which they could have easily done, and I thought that was awesome.”
Ariah was placed in a medically induced coma to help her recover and brought to a room in intensive care where she was carefully monitored by her care team. For the next three and a half weeks, Ariah’s life hung in the balance.
Kizzy stayed by her daughter’s side and prayed over her during that dark and uncertain time. If Ariah survived, nobody knew how her brain injury would affect her quality of life – whether she would be able to walk, see or talk. Kizzy took comfort in being near her little girl and helping with every aspect of Ariah’s care that she could, including bathing her and changing her clothes and sheets. She also was comforted by the compassion shown by Ariah’s many caregivers.
“One of the nurses told me, ‘I can’t tell you that everything is going to be okay, but I can tell you that I have seen a lot of miracles here. I don’t know which way this is going to go, but this is the place for her to be,’” Kizzy says.
Kizzy appreciates that she was included in every medical team meeting and every discussion about her daughter’s care, such as the decisions to insert tracheotomy and feeding tubes.
“The ICU staff is awesome – the doctors and nurses there are so kind, and they always took the time to answer all my questions,” Kizzy says. And even though Ariah was in a coma, Kizzy says everyone always made sure to say hello to her little girl whenever they entered the room.
“Every head injury is different, but the staff at Cincinnati Children’s treats every child the same,” Kizzy says. “They give the same quality of care to everyone’s child, no matter their condition or prognosis. It speaks volumes.”
Ariah Comes Back
A day or two after Ariah’s tracheotomy, Kizzy was amazed to hear Ariah trying to make vocal sounds and saw her move her arm. One of Ariah’s doctors came in to examine her and asked her to give him a “thumbs up” sign. She did.
“And then, Ariah opened her eyes,” Kizzy says. “She couldn’t talk because of the tracheotomy tube, but she was able to point to a balloon that was in her room.” And then came a moment Kizzy will never forget: Ariah gave her overjoyed mother a big hug. Her little girl was back.
Now that Ariah was out of her coma and the danger had passed, there was no time to waste in getting her on the road to recovery. She was brought to the rehabilitation unit, where she underwent intensive physical and occupational therapy to get stronger and relearn how to do things, such as talking, feeding and dressing herself, and tying her shoes. Recovering from a brain trauma can be a slow, painstaking process – and it can be especially hard for a mother to stand by and watch while her child is struggling to do simple things she used to do with ease.
“I remember one time I was trying to help her with her socks, and her nurses reminded me I needed to stop trying to help her – she needed to learn to do it herself,” Kizzy says. “The people in rehab are great – they really work the kids there, and that’s what they need to get better.”
After a month in rehabilitation, Ariah was well enough to go home. She still had her tracheotomy and feeding tubes in place, but Kizzy was able to perform the proper cleaning and care for the tubes because the staff showed her how. “I was confident I could do it because they taught me everything I needed to know,” Kizzy says.
Over time, Ariah got stronger. Her feeding and tracheotomy tubes were eventually removed, and she was able to go back to her elementary school and be with her friends again. Ariah continues to come to Cincinnati Children’s for speech, physical and occupational therapies, and she is getting better every day.
A Bright Future for Ariah
One year after the accident, Ariah is a funny, bubbly 11-year-old who loves to sing and dance. She is doing well in school, making mostly As and Bs, Kizzy says.
Ariah still has some long term issues that will require ongoing outpatient care at Cincinnati Children’s. In addition to her rehabilitation visits, Ariah is scheduled for eye surgery at Cincinnati Children’s later this summer to correct some damage to the muscles and nerves that control her left eye.
Ariah and her mother, Kizzy.
“She’s a walking miracle,” Kizzy says. “I know God was working through everyone at Cincinnati Children’s, but I know they put a lot of work into her, too. She should not be anywhere near where she is. Our lives have changed because of this experience, and we’re so thankful that Cincinnati Children’s was there for us.”
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