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Traumatic brain injury
Rebekah and Sarah Brown

In May 2014 sisters Sarah and Rebekah Brown suffered traumatic brain injuries in an automobile accident in Huntsville, AL. Nine-year-old Sarah was immediately airlifted to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, while 7-year-old Rebekah remained in Huntsville until doctors there felt she could be transported.

“Sarah had multiple fractures all over her body, especially her face, and a broken ankle. Rebekah stayed in Huntsville in a coma with a drain in her head and on a ventilator. It wasn’t safe to transport her to Birmingham until the drain was removed,” said the girl’s mother, Ryann Brown.

A month later, Rebekah was transferred to Birmingham to join her sister. As their other injuries began to heal, both girls were placed under the care of Dr. Paola Mendoza, a physician in the UAB Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children's.

“Sarah had a severe traumatic brain injury, but she really bounced back with only some signs of amnesia that resolved within three months of her hospital stay,” said Mendoza. Sarah has been released from therapy services and is doing well in her classes at school.

Rebekah’s brain injury caused more severe complications. “Originally, we thought it was likely she might not be able to do much. She had to learn to roll over and to sit up and she is still being fed by a tube,” her mother said.

Rebekah attends weekly therapy sessions at Children’s. “She is in a wheelchair but she has started to take steps in a gait trainer. She is able to move her own legs in that and hold her head up and she is smiling and laughing,” Brown said.

She is also learning to use an eye-controlled communication device that will enable her to communicate more easily with her family and therapists. “We are really excited about that,” Brown said.

“Usually no matter how bad a patient looks in the ER, we don’t know their functional outcome until at least a year after their injury. It’s less than 10 months after the accident and we are seeing slow and steady signs of Rebekah’s progress,” Mendoza said.

“I think with Rebekah this has been a real team effort,” Mendoza said. “She has had her family and so many people in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and homebound services to advocate for her and her needs.”

Ryann Brown is appreciative of the care and support they have received at Children’s. “We are so grateful for the doctors, especially in Rehab Medicine. We feel like they really care about our kids. They are so warm and so patient and we really feel that they allow us to be a part of the team,” she said.
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