Charlotte’s Journey

A Mother’s Story by Karly McConnell

April 1, 2014, while leaving work from a childcare center with my son Micah (5) and Charlotte, my daughter (2.5). We crossed the road to our parking spot holding hands and talking. I let go of their hands only long enough to slide the door open but long enough to change our lives forever. Charlotte took a step back just as an SUV was passing. Driven by a college student at about 25mph the side of the car struck Charlotte and she was tossed up towards the front of my vehicle. Motionless but breathing, eyes open, no blood, in that moment the town stood still. In less than five minutes, help was on the scene, Charlotte was intubated and transported to the local hospital. Once stabilized she was transported via helicopter to Dartmouth Hitchcock where she could be better treated. I sat beside my daughter in her hospital bed for fifteen days before spending the next two months at Spaulding Rehab Hospital. Newly divorced and now a single mom I needed to stop working to be there for Charlotte. My parents helped with my son and I only traveled home from the hospital when my ex-husband could spend time with her. After three months of hospitals and rehabilitation, we were finally home. We were connected with area therapists who came to my home to help me, help Charlotte. A Speech pathologist, Occupational therapist, Physical Therapist, and a vision teacher. On a feed tube when we arrived Charlotte was ready to start solids within a week. With the help of her vision teacher, we went about keeping Charlotte safe. We put yellow tape on steps, safety locks on the doors and we installed a baby gate to keep her from wandering if she wakes at night. We were on our way to a new chapter in our lives. One where understanding and healing were now our focus.

Charlotte turns 8 in early September, entering 2nd grade at my hometown elementary school. She has a team of educators helping her, a 1:1 paraeducator that is by her side always. A Special Educator who oversees everything as well as works with her in and out of the classroom. She is provided with a private space within the building for breaks or naps and quiet direct instruction when needed. Her vision remains somewhat of a mystery, given the fact she can’t participate in her eye exams like others. Her ability to say how and what she sees is developing slowly and is definitely “behind” other children her age. Her eye doctor says there is no visual field loss, but there are times it’s as if she has no vision on the bottom field. Like she can walk off a cliff and not realize it until it’s too late. She’s adapted very well over these 5 years it’s now hard to tell she has any vision impairment. It’s frustrating dealing with the medical side of things. We have to drive 1.5 hours away to get to anyone who knows something, and even then they can be wrong, or we can’t get in for months so we wait. Charlotte has suffered two bones broken in her left leg at the growth plate that were undetected and healed improperly. She sustained a hematoma that was removed upon putting a shunt in her head on the left side. Her brain filled with fluid and it went undetected. Charlotte had eye surgery this past winter to help correct the muscles and it seems to be helping. She is now experiencing seizures and undergoes multiple tests while trying to identify the correct medication.

Children in her class accept her, they are friendly and kind. To help students in the school understand Charlotte, I have gone around to several classes and read a book called: “Elvin the Elephant”. About an elephant who suffers from a TBI, it explains things in a way elementary children can understand. I am so thankful for that book; it has been my best tool to help others understand her! She LOVES other children! She does tend to gravitate to the boys generally; they seem to tolerate her more. Mainly because she likes more gross motor play than imaginative. Charlotte loves to listen to stories, look at books, swing on the playground, run around, climb things. She enjoys music and being silly just like all of the other kids.

As her primary caregiver and parent, I sacrifice a lot, without hesitation. There are events we miss out on because I’m intimidated it might be too much for her, or maybe for me. High energy events are highly stimulating and can be too much, too loud, and she is ready to go after only a few minutes. Sometimes I don’t have the mental energy to go somewhere only to just to have to turn around and leave. She has built tolerance for some sporting events. My son Micah plays a sport every season, so there are lots of games to go watch. She enjoys clapping and cheering for him joining in on the excitement. She is always full of happy energy. Giving people hugs, “raspberries”, and likes to chill you with her cold hands by putting them up your shirt and saying “Brrr”. Charlotte has a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) that spends time with her after school enabling me to have some time for Mom chores or focus 1:1 time for my son. Micah is a great big brother who tolerates a lot, Charlotte isn’t always quiet and calm. She enjoys playing with him but sometimes can be a little rough. As with all siblings, some times are easier than others, Micah has found his way to be the best big brother he can.

Charlotte’s accident was very traumatic for everyone in my family and community. However, we were all given a gift in Charlotte 4.0 as we sometimes refer to her. Her issues are complicated but she is simple. She brightens everyone’s day, I’ve been told this over and over again. She’s very social and LOVES people. As a family, we have found that there is strength in coming together and sharing our successes and setbacks. This will always be a work in progress. Progression and healing have no timeline. Every day is a gift and she makes progress every day. One thing she says a lot is “Happy Birthday”, at random. We used to correct her, until one day I realized she’s right. Every day is a birthday, a day to celebrate life. We are a day older and it is a blessing. So is Charlotte.

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