Spring/Summer 2012 Wee Believe cover kid Maggie Tortorich was 11 years old when her story with OLOL Children's Hospital first began. At the time, neurosurgens weren't sure she would survive the traumatic accident, but in January 2013, Maggie's dance team won their state competition.
See what makes this tiny dancer's miracle so special.
Parent Kristi Tortorich was doing everything right. She had just taken then 11-year-old daughter Maggie for immunizations and picked up her 9-year-old son Jack from school. Everyone was buckled in their seats properly. They were on their way to Maggie’s favorite afterschool activity—a dance class. What happened next would rock their world.
While sitting at a red light, the Tortorichs' vehicle was struck from behind by a driver who was allegedly under the influence. Kristi, an emergency room nurse at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, was knocked unconscious and pinned in the car, unable to move.
When she came to, she remembers automatically referencing her trauma training. She began shouting a barrage of questions for her kids, like “what’s your name, where are you, what year is it?” Jack answered. Maggie didn’t.
When Kristi looked in the back seat, she saw her daughter — injured and unconscious. As first responders arrived, she handed her own trauma shears from her pocket to them so they could cut Maggie out of her seat belt. Kristi heard those same emergency responders calling for an ambulance to take Maggie to the nearest hospital. Kristi says she told them “no,” that she wanted her daughter directed to the hospital Kristi knew was prepared to save Maggie’s life. Kristi told them, “She is going to Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and I want her on a helicopter now.”
Maggie’s grandmother Kathy Redmon arrived at OLOL Children’s Hospital just as that helicopter was landing. She remembers, “I watched the team run out and get her and all I could see were her little pink tennis shoes.”
Maggie was in critical condition and slipping into a coma. The right side of her skull was fractured into tiny pieces and pushed in like a bowl; her brain was pushed to the side and bleeding. Neurosurgeon Dr. Luke Corsten recalls, “We got her into the operating room within 25 to 30 minutes. When I placed her onto the O.R. table she was already very near death — one of her pupils was dilating. This is an ominous sign of impending brain damage.”
Once in surgery, Dr. Corsten began working to remove the crushed pieces of skull from Maggie’s brain and stop the bleeding. He then began to rebuild her skull using multiple small titanium plates and screws. Maggie was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in critical condition. There, intensive care specialists kept a close eye on Maggie. Kathy says, “I was prepared we were going to be in the PICU for months and then months of rehab.” Maggie was placed on a machine that breathed for her and sedated to give her brain a chance to heal.
Kristi and Jack fared better although they had to be cut from the wreckage. They were treated for concussions and a few scrapes. Considering the damage to the car shown in photos of the crash, particularly to the area where Jack was sitting, he sustained surprisingly minor injuries. The family believes Jack was spared serious harm because he had curled around their four-pound schnauzer, Bernice, to protect her upon impact. The dog also survived the accident.
Child life specialists worked with Jack to prepare him for what he would see the first time he was able to visit his sister. Kathy remembers him saying upon kissing his sister, “It’s Jack and I’m here for you Maggie,” and then he counted 31 staples.
Miracles do happen at OLOL Children’s Hospital, and Maggie is no exception. Remarkably, within days of her accident, Kristi was sitting with Maggie who had until this point been unresponsive. Kristi said, “Maggie, it’s Mom.” And Maggie opened her eyes and signed “I love you.”
Dr. Corsten says Maggie’s healing is remarkable and that “without her mother’s fast action and the coordinated efforts of the emergency medical technicians, the OLOL Children’s Hospital emergency room physicians, the operating room’s readiness, and the PICU staff, Maggie may not have fared as well.”
Maggie, who was hospitalized on a Monday night, was home by the weekend. Kristi says, “To look at her now, you would never know anything had happened to her. She has had to relearn a few things, like how to tie her shoes but her brain has healed beautifully. Within two weeks she was back in school. If those people hadn’t been ready to handle a child, because a child is different, Maggie would have died.”
Kristi is thankful and says Dr.Corsten told her he had less than five minutes to save Maggie’s life and that “my five minutes came from Kristi’s insistence Maggie be put on a helicopter to the right place.”
Maggie today has fully recovered and is back enjoying the things teenagers enjoy. She recently had her braces removed and is on her way to seventh grade. Because dancing is her passion, she has always dreamed of making her school’s dance team.
Last spring, after tryouts, she opened a letter that read, “Congratulations — you are a Central Dance Team Mustang.”
Maggie has a special shout out to the team at OLOL Children’s Hospital saying, “I want to give thanks to Dr. Corsten for putting things out of his way to save my life, and also, the trauma staff for their quick actions and smart moves. I am so happy to be able to do the things that I can do today because of the doctors and nurses who saved my life.”