6-year-old Bemidji girl recovering in Colorado hospital after spinal cord was severed in car crash
"Mama, will I be able to eat tacos again?"
Six-year-old Hope Elizabeth (Hasson) Johnson asked her mother that question Friday right before she was taken into the operating room to repair and examine injuries she suffered in a car crash Tuesday afternoon in Nebraska.
Even after she and her family learned that there was complete separation of spinal cord and Hope will never walk again, her main worry was whether she would be able to access the library at her Central Elementary School in Bemidji.
"She's definitely spunky," said her mother, Gena Hasson of Bemidji, nothing that Hope offered a Miss America-esque wave on her way into the operating room. "She is the diva princess of our house."
Hasson said the family, despite its new challenges, considers itself extremely blessed.
"We're not sad this has occurred," she said. "This is a new circumstance for us, a new circumstance for our family. We're starting a new life, and we're OK with it."
Hasson cited a favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11 - "'For I know the plans I have for you,'" declares the Lord, "'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
"We so thankful," Hasson said. "We don't want pity. Gratitude is all we're feeling right now. God is good."
Hope and her grandmother, Marilyn Sickler, were on their way back to Minnesota Tuesday afternoon following a family visit in Nebraska when their 2002 Dodge Intrepid, traveling about 65 mph, veered across traffic through a median and struck a parked 2003 Ford F-150 half-ton pickup, which had connected to it a 20-foot gooseneck trailer filled with about 20 cattle.
Hope underwent surgery Friday afternoon as doctors insert pins in her left leg to help repair two fractures.
They also examined her spinal cord and found that it had completely separated in her lower back.
The surgeon said following the surgery that the break was "tragic," recalled Hasson.
"There was nothing they do," she said.
Hope continues to make remarkable strides. Her oxygen levels are good and she is on minimal pain medications, Hasson said.
If all continues to go well, she will be moved the intensive care unit to the rehabilitation floor at Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colo.
The biggest obstacle right now, she said, is ensuring that Hope is able to get the phlegm out of her lungs through coughing and suctioning. If she is unable to do that, her oxygen levels could decrease and Hope would be more susceptible to infection or pneumonia.
Saturday morning, Hope was trying to cough some of it up when Hasson was unable to get her the suction apparatus to her in time.
And Hope took it from her, saying she would just do it herself.
"She's doing really good things right now," Hasson said. "She wants to do it herself. We just know she'll do great burning the wheels on her wheelchair."
Hasson said Children's Hospital has been spectacular, from the nurses to the surgeons.
"To me, this is the closest thing to Heaven," she said. "I just can't say enough about how skilled they are and how attentive they are."
It will be at least two weeks before Hope will be stable enough to return to Minnesota. She will then go to a hospital, not yet chosen, specifically designed for those with spinal cord injuries.
"She is a fighter," Hasson said about Hope. "Feisty like her mom."
Hope's older sister, Ashlin, a freshman at Bemidji High School, has stayed in Bemidji with friends for the time being.
"Hope is missing her sister," Hasson said. "That's when she cries the most."
A Web site has been set up at www.caringbridge.org/visit/hopejohnson where readers may track her progress and leave comments for Hope and her family.
Additionally, an account has been established through RiverWood Bank (formerly First Federal) in the name of Hope Elizabeth Johnson in care of Gena Hasson; those interested may contribute toward Hope's medical expenses.
And plans are being made for a benefit fundraiser for Hope from 1-6 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Bemidji American Legion Club. There will be a "taco in a bag" dinner with live music and a silent auction going on throughout the afternoon. Free-will donations will be accepted.
Chairpersons for the benefit efforts are Terri McNamara and Vonnie Fargen. McNamara can be reached at 218-333-8547 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fargen can be reached at 218-467-3479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Anyone who would like to volunteer is invited to a committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Pinnacle Publishing. For details, contact Kelly Gordon at Pinnacle by calling 218-444-2180.