On February 14, 2018, Sariah (a 4-year-old aspiring dancer and model) and her mother, Shamika, were involved in a devastating motor vehicle accident. Shamika sustained injuries to her right leg which required multiple surgeries in the months to follow. Sariah ’s injuries were much worse, and almost unfathomable. She was in pulseless cardiac arrest at the scene and was air-lifted emergently to SSM Health DePaul Hospital. Shortly thereafter, she was transferred via ambulance to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
Once at Cardinal Glennon, it was determined that Sariah had sustained two spinal cord injuries and extensive hemorrhages into her spinal cord. She was unable to breathe at all independently, despite intubation, and was placed on ECMO for four days. ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The ECMO machine replaces the function of the heart and lungs, when they are unable to work properly on their own. An ECMO machine provides support for a person while the healthcare team works on treating the underlying disease or injury. On February 23, 2018, Sariah underwent surgery to stabilize her spinal cord injuries. Following surgery, Shamika and her extended family were hopeful that Sariah would be able to be extubated and breathe on her own. Unfortunately, extubation efforts were unsuccessful. Sariah received a tracheostomy on March 3, 2018. Since that day in 2018, Sariah has remained dependent on mechanical ventilation for breathing 24 hours a day.
On April 3, 2018 Sariah was discharged from SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, and continued her care at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Hospital. She was admitted there for continued rehabilitation and intensive multidisciplinary therapies, including but not limited to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and music therapy. Sariah remained at Ranken Jordan for nearly 6 months, and was finally able to go home in September 2018. Ongoing, she has appointments 4-5 times/month with a variety of subspecialists back at Cardinal Glennon. Shamika finds support in coordinating all of that with the help of the Complex Care Team. Sariah is followed by multiple subspecialists including Orthopedics, ENT, Neurology, Pulmonology, Urology, Nutrition, just to name a few.
Prior to the accident, Sariah was full of life. She enjoyed dancing, singing, playing outside, art, pre-school and being with her family. She had started modeling with Images Agency in Frontenac, MO and was truly enjoying it. She was an aspiring ballerina with Best Dance Talent Center in St. Ann, MO, and was excitedly preparing for Kindergarten, like many other 4 year-old little girls. Little did she know she would spend her 5th birthday (March 23, 2018) in the hospital and miss her Pre-School Graduation ceremony. Life as they knew it changed with the accident, and both Sariah and Shamika’s lives are very different now.
Sariah is paralyzed from the shoulders down (quadriplegic). She is unable to breathe without the support of her ventilator. She requires assistance for many bodily functions that come independently for most of us, and she relies on a tube in her stomach (a gastrostomy tube) for some of her nutritional needs and medications. Sariah requires full assistance for bathing, feeding, dressing, and mobilizing. Sariah was also diagnosed with Osteopenia (Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker than normal but not so far gone that they break easily, which is the hallmark of osteoporosis). Due to Sariah’s injuries, she is at constant risk for blood, lung and urine infections, pressure ulcers and more. An average 2nd grader may need less than an hour to get up and ready for school. Sariah’s routine may take her and her mother double that time on any given day.
“Even though we both face a lot of challenges, I’m blessed that Sariah remains Sariah,” comments Shamika. “Her smile lights up the room., and she is “SPUNKY” and filled with flare. She even continues to sing now that she can speak even with her tracheostomy in place,” Shamika says. Sariah is currently a second grader at Barrington Elementary and is doing virtual learning through this season of COVID19. She uses her mouth stick and IPAD to communicate for her assignments and Shamika functions throughout the school day at home as her para, full-time caregiver and mom. “Sariah is intelligent, and she cares for others very deeply, especially me… her mother. I am with her day in and day out. I HAVE to be, but I WANT to be. It’s risky to trust anyone else with her care. Anyone who takes the responsibility of caring for her would need to be completely taught and knowledgeable about all of her alarms, how to manage her tracheostomy – ALL of it. I am currently trying to figure out how to give her time to herself. It’s just a human need. Between monitors and schedules, we’re figuring it out, but like everything else – it’s an evolving process,” Shamika says.
Shamika acknowledges faith as having a great role in her life. “If I didn’t have my faith, this whole experience would be too difficult to navigate. There’s PTSD for both of us, remorse about the past, feelings of isolation because it’s difficult for others to understand our ‘life’, anxiety about the future, and more. I have to look to God for my wholeness and hope. The plan for our lives – lives with HIM, and I believe through faith, you find your vision. I have to be open-minded about how our problems can be blessings, and I pray every day for Him to keep filling us with positivity and vision.”
Sariah is 8 years old now, and completely aware of what has happened to her body. She asks a lot of difficult questions that Shamika doesn’t have answers for. As her mother, Shamika has had to confront certain possibilities about her future that seem almost unimaginable. “My focus right now is to make sure Sariah lives her best life while being able to be as ‘normal’ as possible. I encourage her individuality, and let her know she is still her same, beautiful Sariah. She absolutely loves to adventure and go to events. My goal is to make sure that her wheelchair doesn’t limit her. It doesn’t mean we can’t leave home to be able to do things we use to. (i.e. grocery shopping, going to the park, etc). I also want to make sure Sariah gets the mental and emotional support that she needs. As she gets older she will have more questions and desires, and I want to be prepared to address those so she doesn’t feel a void,” Shamika says.
Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, Shamika was a Cardinal Glennon kid most of her life. Born weighing 2lb. 6 oz., She spent the first several weeks of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A chronic diagnosis of asthma kept her connected with Glennon her entire childhood. Her years of care fostered the faith and trust she had to rely on at the time of her accident. “I would never want to be anywhere else with Sariah. Glennon is an extension of my family. The people there are patient, responsible, helpful and advocates. A lot of why I’m alive and why my daughter is alive is because of THEM,” says Shamika. “I’m blessed that we are partners in caring for Sariah, and I’m excited we can all watch together to see Sariah continue her journey. Together, we will figure it out, and we will all be cheerleaders for her along the way.”
Sariah is this year’s featured patient for Glennon Sunday! Click below to learn more.