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Life Changes in an Instant

After Being Hit by a Car, a Teen Girl is Hopeful About the Future

Danielle Burns and her mother, Lori Napolitano, were at a church function in Pine Bush, N.Y., on a Friday night last September when Danielle, then age 15, asked permission to walk down the road to the local McDonald’s to meet some friends. A short time later, one of Danielle's friends came crashing through the church doors, sobbing and gesturing wildly.

"She was so hysterical, she couldn't speak," recalls Lori. "But I knew something had happened to Danielle."

Lori raced down the street to the McDonald's and arrived just as the STAT Flight helicopter was landing to take the teen to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, the only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center in the Hudson Valley. Danielle had been walking on the shoulder of the road when a car going 40 miles an hour swerved and struck her, sending her through the windshield head first.

"I didn't know if she was alive or dead, and the EMTs and police wouldn’t let me go to the ambulance where they were working on her,” Lori says. "But I could see her socks and the bag over her face; they were pumping oxygen into her."

At the Hospital
A pediatric neurosurgeon and trauma specialists were waiting for Danielle when she arrived at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital. Tests revealed a fractured skull, bleeding on the left side of the brain, a torn carotid artery (the main artery in the neck that brings blood to the brain), a bruised lung and injuries to her leg.

Trauma specialists assessed Danielle's injuries and started IV fluids. A plastic surgeon closed up her neck. Because she had sustained severe head trauma, the biggest threats to Danielle's recovery were the bleeding in her brain and the risk of swelling in the brain, says Avinash Mohan, M.D., Co-Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, who followed Danielle.

"It was touch and go for a little while, and our neurological team was keeping a close watch on Danielle every minute. By monitoring her brain with CT scans and managing her fluids and salts, we were able to limit swelling of the brain and avoid surgery," says Dr. Mohan. "The brain has a much better chance of healing if you can avoid surgery."

Positive Outlook
During the eight days that Danielle was in the hospital, Lori says she never felt alone. "When friends and family would ask if they could do anything for me or get me anything, I always said 'no' because the nurses were so fantastic. They made sure I had everything I needed whether it was someone to talk to or something to eat. They got me through."

After Danielle went home, she kept up with her classes with a tutor and even made the honor roll last spring. With a smile on her face, Danielle says she feels "hopeful about the future." She is regaining her sense of smell and taste, both of which were lost following the accident, and is feeling better all the time.

Also, inspired by the care she received at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, Danielle has decided to pursue a career in nursing.

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