Inspiring Stories

How a team of specialists—and a loving family—helped a little girl heal in body and spirit.

Ask 7-year-old Kat what she wants to do when she grows up, and she’ll tell you, as if on cue, “To help hurting children and make them happy!”

Kat—short for Katarina—knows a lot about being happy. She loves playing with her friends, dancing, gymnastics, Legos, animals, the beach, and her close-knit family, which includes three doting older sisters.

But Kat also knows about hurting. Just before Christmas 2015—only a day before she turned 6—she was attacked by two large dogs. The unprovoked attack ripped all five nerves that extend down the length of her left arm from their roots, paralyzing the arm. It also injured her spinal cord, fractured her skull and left her with wounds all over her body.

AFM took away Sebastian’s ability to walk, but he’s fighting back—superhero-style—one step at a time.

AFM took away Sebastian’s ability to walk, but he’s fighting back—superhero-style—one step at a time.

Ask Sebastian what he wants to be when he grows up, and he’ll tell you: “A warrior!”

It’s a fitting aspiration for a boy named after the patron saint of soldiers. But Sebastian is already a warrior. He fights every day to walk, gain strength, redevelop motor skills, and get back to the business of being a 6-year-old after developing acute flaccid myelitis (also known as AFM) last August.

Finding resilience and hope at the Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress.

In many ways, Zyaira is like most 9-year-old girls. She loves to ride her bike, roller-skate and do her own hair. She likes to help her mom cook—grilled cheese is a favorite. But when she came to Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress in 2013, she was a very different child.

After witnessing her father have a massive heart attack, she and her mother, Charisse, moved to Baltimore from rural Virginia. Soon, Zyaira’s concerns over her father’s health were compounded by separation anxiety and difficulty adjusting to a city school. Shy by nature, Zyaira would be reserved and quiet, and then have uncontrollable temper tantrums. She was afraid to sleep alone at night, and she talked in a baby voice when stressed.
 

After paralysis, Robbie discovers adaptive sports and sails to Cuba on an adventure of a lifetime.

When I was 19, I dove off a dock. My three buddies went to the left, but I dove to the right. I woke up 13 days later with a spinal cord injury. The doctor delivered the news of paralysis, along with a list of things he said I’d never do again.

At first I didn’t believe it, but then I viewed the future as a challenge. For nearly three years, I focused on gaining as much independence as possible. While my friends were in college, I spent my days in rehab.

It was a mental struggle, but the therapists at Kennedy Krieger pushed me further than I knew I could go. After the injury my physical abilities were very limited. If I hadn’t been dedicated to rehab, I couldn’t live the life I have today.

Born severely premature, Morgan, now 12, is thriving in school and in life, thanks in part to developmental specialists at Kennedy Krieger.

For Beth Vester and her daughter Morgan, 12, the NICU Follow-up Clinic at Kennedy Krieger Institute has been a steady source of guidance and support over the years. Morgan was born 14 weeks early, weighing just 1 lb.,10 oz., and spent six weeks in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) of a nearby hospital. Morgan’s pediatrician recommended follow-up care at Kennedy Krieger.

Unable to eat on their own for their first three years of life, these quadruplets overcame their feeding disorders with the help of specialists at the Instiute.
The quadruplets

It seems like an obvious fact of life: if a child is hungry enough, he will eat. Yet for some children with a history of prematurity or developmental disorders, eating is a skill that does not develop automatically.

When quadruplets Timmy, Edda, Lily, and Wyatt were born prematurely at 24 weeks’ gestation, their parents, Anne and Rob, knew their babies would face continuing medical complications. But they didn’t anticipate how much of a struggle the simple act of eating would be.

Scientists at Kennedy Krieger search for the key to curing Ellie, while keeping her symptoms at bay.
Ellie's Cure 1A

Ellie McGinn is an adorably sweet and charming third-grader from Arlington, Va., who has a progressive neurological disease known as LBSL. Although there is currently no cure or long-term treatment, researchers at Kennedy Krieger are working with her family to find the key to curing Ellie, while keeping her symptoms at bay.

When Ellie was a toddler, she began falling down and suffering from pain and fatigue. Her parents, Michael and Beth McGinn, took her to multiple specialists to find out what was wrong. Neurologists were perplexed—none had seen a case like Ellie’s. Over the next six months, Ellie’s ability to walk deteriorated. When a doctor finally diagnosed her, the news was grim. Ellie had a rare, neurodegenerative disorder known as LBSL (short for leukoencephalopathy with brainstem and spinal cord involvement and lactate elevation).

Children with complex disorders and injuries need multi-faceted care
An unimaginable surfing injury left Mike Fritschner paralyzed at age 15. He thought he had lost everything, until he gained back even more.

I was surfing with my dad on a family vacation in Hawaii in 2006. I stood up on a wave and felt a small pop in my back, which began to hurt. I paddled in and tried to stretch my back, but it just kept hurting more. I felt my legs getting really tired. I walked a few feet and collapsed. That was the last time I was really able to feel my legs. I was 15.

I experienced a rare injury called surfer’s myelopathy. While I was surfing and turning to look back at the wave, my back hyperextended, which cut the flow of blood to my spine, causing some nerves to die.

My plan had been to become a professional quarterback. I told my dad that without my athletic ability, I wasn’t anything. He said that I was much more than an athlete and that we would get through this together. At that moment, I knew I would never use being in a wheelchair as an excuse not to do something or let it define who I am.

3-year-old Sanayah is thriving despite spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Sanayah

No one needs to tell Eric Pineiro that life can change in an instant. That moment for him was June 20, 2015. He was driving his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Sanayah, home from the mall when a drunk driver swerved into their lane. The impact killed a passenger in the oncoming vehicle, and sent Sanayah’s mother, Nandraine, to Shock Trauma, and Sanayah and her father to the hospital. The crash left Sanayah with a severe spinal cord injury, brain hemorrhage, and concussion. Although her spine was intact, the swelling—and the damage to the nerves that followed—left her paralyzed from the chest down.

The weeks that followed were difficult. Eric, whose condition had stabilized, spent long, sleepless nights with his daughter hoping she would survive, while Nandraine struggled to recover from her own injuries and the anxiety of being separated from her daughter.

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