On April 3rd, 2009, Ann Delay of Hudson, SD, got a life-changing phone call. While preparing for her day as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in Centerville, her husband, Tim, phoned to tell her that their two daughters had been in a serious car accident. One of them was being airlifted to a hospital in Sioux Falls.Fourteen-year-old Alli and 12-year-old Lexi were on their way to school in Beresford when the family van’s right tire caught the edge of the asphalt, tipped, and rolled eight times before coming to rest in a field. Fortunately both girls were wearing seatbelts, and Alli was able to frantically crawl out a window. Lexi, however, was trapped and unconscious. Fortunately, emergency crews responded quickly.
When Tim and Ann arrived at the hospital, they were relieved to hear that Alli had only a broken shoulder, but were told that Lexi may not survive. She may have been without oxygen for about ten minutes, and had a serious head injury. She also had two collapsed lungs and a shattered elbow. Doctors told the Delays there would be better outcomes if family stayed constantly with the girls. They took turns at the bedside of each of their daughters, and prayed as Lexi’s life hung in the balance for two agonizing weeks. Alli was discharged after a week, and also began keeping vigil with Lexi, who seemed to improve with the presence of her sister.
Her first major turning point came three days after the accident. Lexi’s intercranial pressure was steadily increasing, threatening more brain damage. After an hour of several life and death moments, she stabilized. Her mother kissed her in relief and Lexi’s brain monitor spiked in reaction. Tim and Ann took turns kissing their daughter, overjoyed with the response that came each time. Lexi was fighting her way back.
The extent of Lexi’s recovery was still uncertain after a month, when she was stable enough to be discharged to Children’s Care Hospital & School to continue her recovery. “We never know how a brain will heal, and she had significant cognitve and physical deficits when she first arrived,” says Dr. Julie Johnson, Director of Rehabilitation Programs at Children’s Care. “She wasn’t speaking, eating, or able to care for herself at that point.” Lexi began a demanding daily schedule of therapy. Ann, on leave from teaching, spent days with Lexi at Children’s Care, and Tim, a farmer, stayed each night, so that Lexi was never alone. They were told to expect a several month stay. Ann says that from the beginning, the staff provided the perfect balance of attentive care and respect for their family’s privacy. “They always seemed to know just when we needed support and when to give us space.”Speech-Language Pathologist Melissa Carrier-Damon helped Lexi learn to speak and swallow so she could eat orally again. Occupational Therapist Desiree Hokeness used eye tracking and scanning activities to increase her awareness of her environment in preparation for relearning the functional activities of dressing, bathing, eating, and reading. She also helped stretch her surgically repaired elbow to prevent it from being permanently bent or flexed, and worked on neuromuscular and sensory stimulation of her arms and hands to re-teach the use of them. Physical Therapist Pam Dahm worked with Lexi on regaining her head and trunk control for sitting, and eventually, for standing and walking. Gradually Lexi’s trunk and leg strength improved and she was on her way to becoming more independent with movement and walking.
Therapy was exhausting for Lexi, but the results came quickly. “I can’t say enough about the therapists,” says Ann. “They were obsessed with Lexi and how they could help her. They would even come in on their days off to check on her.” Lexi’s motor skills developed before her speech did. Her speech breakthrough came with her mom’s homemade French silk pie. “She was able to vocalize the “M” sound, and Melissa knew Lexi could turn that into words. She gave her a taste of the pie, and told her she would have to say “more” if she wanted another bite. We all started to cry when Lexi responded with the word ‘more.’” Within minutes, Lexi had said 15 to 20 more words. Her sense of humor soon returned, too, a great sign of cognitive activity.
Lexi was discharged on July 2, only two months after being admitted to Children’s Care. She continues to get regular therapy for tight muscle tone in her leg and a slight tremor in her left hand.
Now a freshman in high school, Lexi is a straight-A student, and knows exactly what she wants to be when she grows up—an occupational therapist. Alli’s plan is to work with her sister as a physical therapist. Wearing a bracelet that says, “Thank you God, I am grateful,” Ann says their family will never take life for granted. “We have been so blessed to have met so many life-loving and life-giving people at Children’s Care,” says Ann. “Children’s Care will always feel like a second home to us.”