There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Seven months after leaving Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) on a cold December day, 13-year-old Lexie Hafey returned to see some of the team members who cared for her – and to thank them for saving her life. As the summer sun streamed through the windows on the sixth floor of CHoR’s Pavilion, Siri Garrett, Certified Child Life Specialist, and Jessica Graham, RN, BSN, CPN, Pediatric Surgery RN, stepped off the elevator to embrace Lexie while her mom, dad, stepdad, grandma and brother watched the emotional reunion.
“Every time I would progress, Jess would be so happy to see me,” Lexie recalled of her days in the hospital. “I didn’t remember Siri [from my time at CHoR], but when I saw her [this summer], I felt like I’d known her for so long.”
A Critical Case
On Dec. 13, 2017, Lexie and her then 18-year-old brother, Dylan, were on their way home from Christmas shopping when their car was hit by another vehicle about a mile from their Emporia, Va. home. Dylan fractured some ribs, punctured his lung and split his lip. Lexie had glass particles all over her body and in her eyes, a gash on her cheek, a fractured shoulder blade and occupital condyle (the joint that connects the base of the skull to the vertebrae), brain bleeds, and damage to her liver, kidney and spleen. Because of the seriousness of their injuries, Dylan and Lexie, who was in and out of consciousness, were transported by helicopter to the emergency rooms at CHoR and VCU Medical Center.
While Lexie and Dylan were flown to Richmond, their mom, Kellie Smith, her parents, and their dad, Brad Hafey, drove the 80 minutes to the hospital, a trip Kellie described as the “longest ride of my life.” Lexie was seen by specialists in CHoR's pediatric emergency room, a Level I pediatric trauma center located just down the hall from the adult unit where Dylan was taken.
“The degree of her injury was quite significant,” said David Lanning, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and pediatrics and co-surgeon-in-chief, CHoR. “She was in critical condition and had significant injuries to her liver, right kidney and spleen.”
Lexie was transferred to CHoR’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) where Dr. Lanning said her condition quickly deteriorated. Her blood pressure dropped throughout the evening, and early the next morning, he performed the first of four surgeries Lexie would undergo over five days to control internal bleeding. (She also received multiple blood transfusions.) For each surgery, Lexie’s surgeons coordinated with specialists from CHoR and VCU Health’s interventional radiology, anesthesia, and PICU teams.
“One of the benefits of having a children’s hospital within an adult facility is that we can coordinate with adult trauma surgeons and interventional radiology specialists,” Dr. Lanning said. “With CHoR being a Level I trauma center, we were able to save Lexie and her organs.”
Praying for her Recovery
Lexie spent eight days in the PICU where she remained sedated and on a ventilator for the first six days. In the beginning, Kellie said Lexie had two nurses assigned to her and “one never left her side, which was so reassuring and comforting to me as a mother.” Kellie also rarely left Lexie’s side, and if she did, Brad, Lexie’s grandmother or one of Lexie’s stepparents were there.
Although Lexie doesn’t remember much about the accident or her time in the PICU, her family made sure Lexie’s team members knew about her. Nearly 30 photos were hung in Lexie’s room so everyone who took care of her could learn about the smiling, energetic girl her family wanted to see again. Team members involved her parents in Lexie’s care by sharing information, answering questions and supporting the family’s strong faith.
“Once Lexie was off the ventilator and started smiling, I just knew she was going to be ok,” Brad recalled.
On December 21, Lexie was transferred to the pediatric progressive care unit. Within a few days she moved to the acute care inpatient unit, where she had special visitors from the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The next morning, she woke to a stocking full of gifts and presents under the tree. Adding to the festivities, on December 26, she celebrated her 13th birthday with decorations outside her room – and a discharge slip to go home.
“I was told to be prepared to be [at CHoR] for weeks,” Kellie recalled, “but God had other plans!”
Returning to Richmond
Following her discharge, Lexie wore a neck collar for eight weeks and remained home from school for two months. The day Dr. Lanning cleared her to return to normal activities, Kellie said she became teary eyed because of the bond she formed with her daughter’s doctors and nurses. Lexie will continue to be followed by an opthamologist because of the glass particles in her eye, but other than avoiding roller coasters and contact sports, the only lasting sign of her accident is a scar on her right cheek. She recently said she didn’t want the scar to disappear because it’s proof she survived and that God has a plan for her life. That plan now includes starting eighth grade this fall, hosting a toy drive for CHoR patients during the holidays and swimming with the dolphins during a trip with her family on the first anniversary of her accident.
Lexie, who began dancing in preschool and has been on a competition team for four years, stopped dancing for nine months after her accident to give her body time to heal. While she admitted to “dancing all around the house” this spring, she was eagerly awaiting her return to the dance studio when she visited CHoR this summer.
“I told my mom I wanted to come back and see some of the nurses I had in the PICU,” said Lexie. “They showed so much compassion and love to my family in the hardest time of their life.”
For Lexie, a spunky 13-year-old with an infectious personality and strong southern accent, 13 has become a number she doesn’t want to forget. Her accident was on December 13, she spent 13 days at CHoR, and she was discharged on her 13th birthday.
“CHoR helped our family by placing the people in [Lexie’s] path that [she] needed for what [she] had been through,” said Kellie. “From the medical part of helping [her] to the emotional part of being there for our family, I truly believe each and every person who had their hands on Lexie were angels placed there by God.”