Chances are you have and you might even of had the privilege of knowing that family. The father may have helped your loved one in a crisis, the mother may have taught your 4th grader, your children may have participated in gymnastics class with the little girls. It is definitely a possibility that you have seen this family riding bicycles in your neighborhood or playing with their little dog. This is the Ahlquist family. Life was carefree and predictable until it wasn’t.
On April 5, 2015 this “normal” family of four loaded themselves and their dog into the car and set off to grandma’s house for Easter dinner.
No one could have predicted that when they drove through a green light an impaired driver would slam into the back of their vehicle changing lives forever. The direct impact hit exactly where Haley and Hannah, ages five and three respectively, were sitting. Even though the children were secure in their car seats both suffered whiplash. Haley had a massive concussion and a broken hand, whereas Hannah suffered from a spinal cord injury and is now a tetraplegic (also known as quadriplegia) with the inability to move from her arms down.
Both girls were air lifted to Lee Memorial Trauma Center where it was determined that the extent of Hannah’s injuries required her to be once again air lifted to Tampa General Trauma, who could better treat pediatric spinal cord injuries.
Hannah initially spent 1 1/2 months in the Pediatric ICU on life support when a problem developed and her lungs began to fill with fluid. Once that problem was managed she was able to have spinal fusion. With stabilization, she was transferred to Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia where state of the art pediatric spinal cord injuries is a specialty. Hannah spent four weeks there before returning to Naples. After three weeks she again returned to Philadelphia for intensive physical therapy and rehab. This is expected to be a back and forth trip every few months with ongoing therapy continuing here locally.
Currently Hannah cannot move her fingers, but has minimal arm movement even though they are extremely weak. Her entire body remains fragile and her three year old voice very soft. She can no longer sleep in her bedroom with her sister Haley because of all of the required medical equipment needed to take care of her. Her hospital bed is now in the family room which opens to the rest of the home so she can be a part of all of the activities, also enabling her parents and sister to keep an eye on her. Exorbitant medical expenses keep the family from reconfiguring space to make it handicapped accessible but there is hope that this is possible over a period of time.
Monthly expenses are staggering and the projected cost of lifetime care will be in the multimillions. As Hannah grows all of her adaptive equipment such as braces for her body, hands and legs, along with wheelchairs and a specialty mattress will need to be made larger. This tiny blond haired angel will continue to require medical care 24/7 for the rest of her life including travel to her specialty physicians and hospitals, since spinal cord injuries for her age group cannot be treated close to home.
Hannah was once a bouncy out going child, gymnastics, trampolines, bikes, swing sets or swimming. Her personality is more reserved and quiet at this point. Her sister and she are still best pals with Haley bringing her toys to play with her or just having girl talk. Hannah works on fine motor dexterity by using her hands working at a table on puzzles, play dough, or coloring. Haley and Hannah loved being in the pool and jumping anywhere, Hannah can still go to the pool but must be held when she is in the water, nothing is quite the same. The most important thing to Hannah is that she spend time with her family, and I suspect that this is their priority as well.
If you’re inclined to support Hannah on her long journey, her parents Jeff and Ana have opened a bank account in her name at Suncoast Credit Union. If you are willing to sponsor a fundraiser to benefit Hannah, please call Jeff Ahlquist at 239.596.4297, this family is extremely grateful for expressions of kindness. You can also be supportive by buying a “Hannah Band” to wear, for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.