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December 17, 2009

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After harrowing accident, an uplifting Christmas
A Conshohocken family gets a helping hand from friends in Chestnut Hill.

Bailey Ehasz (second from right) is joined by her family (from left) dad Mark, brother Noah, mom Dawn, and brother Riley at their friends home over the weekend. Bailey has made tremendous progress since a near fatal accident in May. (Photo by Jennifer Katz)

It was primary election day, and Bailey Ehasz and her friend had the day off. The two girls had been up late at Bailey’s house, hanging out, noshing on junk food and being silly. They passed out on the couches in the living room, and when Dawn Ehasz left for work the next morning, she remembers looking at the girls and pausing for a moment before she walked out the door with a “buh-bye, luv ya” to her sleeping 11-year-old and her friend.

“You remember the last thing you said to your child,” said Dawn, sitting in a friend’s house a few doors up from her family’s home in Conshohocken, recalling the morning of May 19.

Dawn was working as a registered medical assistant in a local doctor’s office and taking nursing classes at night. Her mother was working as the receptionist in the same office on that day when her husband, Mark, called upset and hysterical.

“My mom came back to get me,” Dawn said. “She said ‘Mark’s on the phone, he’s very upset. Bailey was taken by helicopter to CHOP [Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia].’”

Bailey and her friend (who the family has asked not to be identified) were spending the day out and about their neighborhood.

 Just before noon, the girls headed up 2nd Avenue to Fayette Street where they waited for the traffic to stop before entering the cross walk. Bailey stepped into the street first and an SUV driver struck her on her right side.

The impact sent her 77-pound frame into the air. According to the medical reports, she landed approximately 25 to 50 feet farther up the road.

“She had stopped breathing,” Dawn said.

A crowd quickly gathered around and a volunteer firefighter ran over from the nearby fire station.

The reason she lived, said Dawn, was because there were so many people around. Several people called the police, who had Bailey taken to CHOP. She was in surgery in less than an hour and long before her parents even arrived at the accident scene.

“The reason she lived is also because that firefighter got to her and pulled down her chin so she could get air,” said Dawn. “She wasn’t breathing, and because he did that she didn’t lose any oxygen.”

When she arrived at the accident site, Dawn kept asking the officers, “Is my daughter OK?” and the only answer she got was “You need to get to the hospital.”

“I knew it was bad,” she said. “I knew in my heart it was bad,”

At CHOP, Dawn and Mark were greeted by a social worker.

“They put us in this room and left us there,” Dawn said. “We sat there, my mom came, and we waited.”

The news wasn’t good. Bailey had sustained multiple, critical injuries. Her right femoral head (at the top of her thigh) was fractured, her pelvis was fractured in multiple places and she had a diffused axonal injury to her brain from the landing.

“The same injury would kill us,” said Dawn referring to adults.

The surgery removed part of her skull to relieve pressure on her brain. As Bailey remained in surgery, the doctors explained that she would need an immediate operation on her leg and that there was only a 50 percent chance that it would take.

Dawn and Mark sat and waited as the room filled with friends and family.

“We sat and we sobbed,” she said.

Bailey came out of surgery and was placed in the Intensive Care Unit where she remained in critical condition for two weeks. While the first 72 hours were the most critical, doctors remained concerned about Bailey who was unresponsive.

“At one point we got pulled into a room with the social worker and the trauma nurse practitioner who had been treating Bailey,” Dawn said. “They told us to prepare ourselves, that we would never have our daughter back – emotionally, physically or spiritually – the way she was.”

Bailey remained in the ICU for another week and by the time she was moved to another floor, Dawn and Mark knew she had brain damage. In the days after the accident, Bailey had complications from cerebral salt wasting, which can lead to further issues and cause permanent brain damage.

She also had begun “storming” which looks like a seizure where the patient arches her back and shakes.

 “It was awful,” Dawn said. “I had to leave the room. I thought she was having a heart attack.”

Bailey was also intubated for nine days after the accident. She had bilateral contusions to her lungs and a small blood clot in the right lung. Dawn kept Bailey’s friends away while she was in the ICU, both for Bailey’s sake, because the stimulation would set off the storming and also because she wanted to protect the girl’s friends from seeing her like that.

It was before the storming and before the meeting with the social worker and the nurse, however, that Dawn knew her daughter would never be the same.

“She began posturing,” said Dawn, who because of her medical background knew it was a sign of brain damage. Posturing is an involuntary flexing of the arms and legs.

But after two and a half weeks, there were signs that Bailey might beat the odds. The doctors replaced the skull cap they had removed in the hour after the accident. The swelling they feared never happened. It was a small but significant victory.

“Normally it takes three to six months for them to put it back,” said Dawn.

After 22 days, Bailey was released from the ICU and sent to CHOP’s Seashore House for in-patient rehabilitation therapy.

For the first three weeks, Dawn did not leave the hospital. Her sister flew in to stay with her two younger boys, Riley, 11, and Noah, 8. Once Bailey was moved to the Seashore House, Dawn and Mark and their parents would rotate spending nights at the hospital. In the six months Bailey spent at the hospital, she was only alone for two nights. One was so Dawn and Mark could attend a fundraiser for her, and the other was on Dawn’s birthday.

Dawn, who kept her composure discussing the horrific accident, gets visibly upset when talking about the sacrifices her sons have had to make since May. The loss of time with their parents, the loss of the sister they knew and the changes the family has had to endure to learn a new normal as they move forward with Bailey’s recovery.

Riley and Bailey were and are especially close. They joke constantly and sit close to each other. They are only 14 months apart and while many siblings so close in age would be at odds, Bailey and Riley are best buds, giggling at private jokes.

“This has made them very close,” Dawn said.

They have shared the pain. Riley learned about his sister’s accident from the cop who showed up at the family’s door just after it happened looking for his parents.

“He has nightmares about that,” Dawn said.

Bailey has made tremendous progress, but can get frustrated by her limitations.

“I would like my life back really badly,” she said. “And its not going to happen.”

Dawn said the family trampoline, once a symbol of fun, has become a reminder of what is gone.

“Bailey used to love to jump on it and now she wants to and she can’t so Riley feels bad,” Dawn said. “He doesn’t want to jump by himself.”

“It’s boring,” Riley added.

“He wants to be by her side, but he also wants to jump, so he feels guilty and she feels guilty,” Dawn said.

Bailey was released from the hospital in September. She has out-patient therapy five days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dawn had taken family leave to be by her side throughout her recovery and finally had to leave her job at the end of the summer. She has had to be home with Bailey full-time and applied for unemployment only to be denied based on information provided by the company, which owns her former employer’s office. Her appeal is pending.

Mark was out of work for a month after the accident before he returned to his job as a quality assurance analyst. To say the family has been struggling, is an understatement. And as is so often the case in this country, Bailey’s medical insurance is playing a shell game with its reimbursements. In the last few weeks Dawn and Mark got a second bill from the hospital. This one had a new total for the portion of Bailey’s care that has not been covered by insurance, $580,000.

The Ehaszes filed a civil suit against the driver of the SUV. They were hoping to be able to given any award to Bailey, but now Dawn worries that any money the get would go to pay off the hospital bills.

“She deserves something,” said Dawn.

Bailey ended her sixth grade year at Colonial Middle School with distinguished honors. She had a superior IQ and was an outstanding student and budding artist. The brain injury she sustained has left her with permanent brain damage, most significantly to her short-term memory. It will never recover, Dawn said.

She can remember some things but not as memories. She recalls them as stories that have been told to her.

Dawn remembers one day in the hospital when she and Bailey were walking down the hall and Bailey turned to her and said, ‘You look a lot like my mom.’

“It broke my heart,” Dawn said.

That is how Bailey’s memory works now. She knows what she knows because of what she has been told. She is home-schooled two days a week and has been catching up on her seventh grade studies. They are hoping she will return to school in January.

“I’m nervous about going back,” Bailey said. “I think it will be overwhelming.”

Bailey is also still recovering physically. She needs a walker or a cane to walk. The first surgery to repair her right leg did not take, and she recently had a second surgery. They will not know if that surgery was successful for many more months, until she heals completely. She does not have full use of her right hand and probably never will.

“I feel robbed, like someone stole something from my daughter,” Dawn said of what it is like to watch her now-12-year-old struggle. Both Dawn and Bailey are acutely aware of how different her life is now from the lives of her friends.

Both also realize how lucky they are that Bailey survived and that their friends have remained steadfast in the aftermath the accident.

While the Ehaszes were grappling with financial burdens, their friends decided to do something about it. Aside from a fund that was set up, a group of close friends in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Conshohocken, Lafayette Hill and Glenside got together and raised money for the family’s Christmas. It was a collective Santa Claus endeavor to provide the kids with a Christmas despite the hardship they had endured.

It was hard for Dawn and Mark to accept the gifts. They did it, as any parent would, for their children.

“I don’t want them to have to learn a life lesson this way,” Dawn said. “My oldest asks me if we are poor now. I don’t want them to learn that life lesson from this.”

To make donations to the Bailey Ehasz Fund, mail checks payable to Bailey Ehasz to Wachovia Bank, 438 Fayette St., Conshohocken, PA 19428 or visit www.baileyfund.conshy.com.

 



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