Angela’s story is one that leaves you inspired by how positive a child can be, even in the toughest of situations. No matter what she has faced, she always has a smile to share with those around her.
In November 2021, Angela and her dad Chris were taking a flight in his Cessna 150 airplane when the unimaginable happened. They lost control of the plane and crashed in the woods. They were stuck in the snow for hours before the search party found them and evacuated them to receive medical attention.
While it was a miracle they both survived, given the condition of the plane, Angela was left with an incomplete spinal cord injury affecting her T8-L3 vertabraes. This caused her to have no movement of her legs and lower body.
Angela’s mom Sharon, who recalled the plane crash and initial days after the injury during a therapy session at Shriners Children’s Philadelphia, didn’t want to dwell on the accident. Instead, she wanted to look back at all the progress Angela has made, and look forward to all the progress they’re hoping she does make. “Most of all, we are just enjoying her every day, regardless of the outcome,” Sharon said.
Angela’s story is one of rehabilitation and pushing the limits of what everyone thought was possible. When she first arrived to Shriners Children’s in November 2021, she had already received spinal surgery at another hospital immediately after the accident. It was a waiting game to let her wounds heal and to see the outcome from the surgery. During this time, Mark Solomon, M.D., performed surgery to remove dead tissue from some of the wounds, helping accelerate the healing process.
The rest of her care at the hospital has been rehabilitation for her spinal cord injury, focusing on muscle movement and gaining strength. Her first long-term rehabilitation stay started in February of this year, and she’s had a few other stays and follow-up appointments, including her most recent stay in July.
Her physicians Richard Goldberg, D.O., and Bethany Lipa, M.D., created a care plan to address all of Angela’s needs while in the hospital. They work closely with rehabilitation staff using physical, occupational and speech therapy to produce the best outcome possible. “She’s very resilient,” Dr. Lipa noted. “She overcame so much and she rises to every challenge. She overcame a plane crash, hypothermia, having COVID, a bedsore, dressing changes, and yet she’s still so happy.”
They are so attentive to every detail to a child’s care. The communication is top notch. The professionalism and caring from the entire team is unmatched.
Working with Courtney Mullen, PT, DPT, PCS, she had to relearn everything from bed transfers and dressing herself, to standing on her own. “In my first PT session with her, it took 45 minutes for her to lean forward and unlock her wheelchair brakes because she was so fearful,” recalled Courtney. “Now she is walking all over the place! Her mom and I talk about that story all the time.”
Part of Angela’s therapy program included using the Therastride system over the course of two weeks in July. Therastride is a body-weight support treadmill that allows for focused activation of the lower body by supporting the patient in a harness so their full weight isn’t on their legs.
Sharon says that they are "so grateful for Shriners Children’s and the Therastride program.” During the program, Angela has started feeling her quad muscles activate and she can now even ride an adaptive bike. Sharon beamed while showing the video on her phone, explaining they have been able to track her strength through how far she gets down the road on the bike each time.
Angela’s family has found hope and a support system inside and outside of the hospital. They have a huge church community around them from Christian Life Assembly in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where they attend. The church has brought them meals, helped with her husband Chris’ business, and they have even helped renovate the house to accommodate Angela’s care needs.
While her original prognosis stated she would likely have no movement returning in her lower extremities; every step of the way, Angela has surprised her doctors and made tremendous progress. “She thrived here [at Shriners Children’s]. She came from a really hard situation, but she has thrived.”
Angela still has a long way to go, but has gotten a great start at Shriners Children’s Philadelphia. She will continue to do outpatient therapy as needed, and both staff and her family cannot wait to see all the additional progress she’ll make.