July 16, 2015, was an ordinary day for a little girl who is anything but ordinary.
Nine-year-old Savannah, a competitive dancer, was on her way to gymnastics practice with her mom, Heather, when another vehicle struck their van head on.
The right side of their car, where Savannah had been sitting in the back seat, took a direct hit.
Everyone else in the vehicle escaped without major injuries, but Savannah was unresponsive at the scene. She was rushed to Children’s Hospital Colorado, where doctors stabilized her.
“The first time I saw her, I was devastated,” said Heather. “There were so many machines, and there was so much medicine being pumped into my little girl. And there was nothing I could do. It had been a normal day, and then all of a sudden, I didn’t even know if my daughter would survive.”
After running tests, doctors delivered a devastating diagnosis: Savannah’s spinal cord had been severely injured.
The accident left her paralyzed from the neck down.
listening to kids’ voices
To prevent further damage to her spine, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Brent O’Neill performed a complex spinal surgery on the little girl, fusing several of the vertebrae in her back.
For the next three months, Savannah stayed at Children’s Colorado to undergo intensive rehabilitation.
Heather said that Monte Leidholm, a respiratory therapist at Children’s Colorado, played an integral role in her daughter’s recovery.
“Monte can get Savannah to do things that even I as a parent can’t get her to do,” said Heather. “He knows what she wants and needs. He built a relationship with her first, then worked with me. So many times people think that kids don’t have their own voice. But they really do. And we need to listen to it. Everyone at Children’s Colorado listens to kids’ voices.”
Savannah has never been afraid to share her opinions. When she was hospitalized, she always hated her boring, plain hospital gowns, so she decided to design her own line of trendy hospital wear.
From her hospital bed, she launched Sassy Savvy Inc. - a combination of Savannah’s two nicknames that so aptly describe this spirited little girl - to make hospital gowns with kid-friendly, stylish prints for other patients.
‘my hope is she walks again’
Nearly two years after her accident, 11-year-old Savannah continues to make great strides in her recovery, thanks to her never-give-up attitude and rigorous physical therapy four days a week at Children’s Colorado.
She recently got off of her ventilator, so she is breathing on her own for the first time since the accident. It’s a big milestone in her journey to recovery and one that means she will get to go swimming with her dance team this summer. Now, she is fiercely determined to regain the use of her arms and gain more sensation throughout her body.
“Savannah should not be able to feel anything from her shoulders down,” said her mom, Heather. “But she can feel fingertip to toe. It’s pretty amazing how much she actually feels.”
These days, this extraordinary girl - whose life was turned upside on an ordinary day - does not let anything stand in the way of her dreams and goals.
She recently returned to the dance stage for her first competition since the accident, performing a duet in her wheelchair with her best friend, who pirouetted her across the stage.
When Savannah grows up, she says she wants to be a NICU nurse.
Savannah’s mom has even bigger ambitions for her daughter.
“My hope is she walks again one day,” said Heather.”