Determined local girl beating odds after accident
Brooklyn Sickman sits in her mother’s lap and requests a piece of a Cheeto and then another.
She also would like some “p-o-p,” her father, Jeff Sickman, spells out as any dad who doesn’t want his young child to know what he’s talking about would do.
But Brooklyn has to stick to juices, so any soft drinks are put out of sight.
The thought of the 2-year-old Tonganoxie girl being able to see that bottle of pop, even a few weeks ago, would have been hard to fathom.
Since late September, Brooklyn has been at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., recovering from an accident in which a barn stall gate fell on her.
The gate, which her mother, Teresa Sickman, said weighed about 300 pounds, fell directly on Brooklyn’s head. There was “not one single bruise from her chin down” Teresa said.
Impact from the stall gate caused breaks in Brooklyn’s cheek bones, sinus cavity, right orbit around her eye, and the back of her head.
She was rushed Sept. 26 by air ambulance to Children’s Mercy from the farm of family friends in rural Tonganoxie.
Initially, doctors’ prognoses were grim — physicians told Jeff and Teresa that Brooklyn wouldn’t survive the first few days after the accident. They then said she would survive, but her quality of life would be poor.
Teresa, though, knew her daughter. She was a determined little girl who Jeff said was crawling months after she was born and was running around at 8 months.
“She’s tough,” Jeff said. “She’s not a statistic.”
Road to recovery
Brooklyn had been heavily sedated and was on a breathing machine after the accident. Teresa said she told doctors she thought her daughter could better recover if she were taken off the heavy sedation. It wasn’t easy to see their daughter in pain, but Teresa and Jeff watched as, seven hours later, she started breathing somewhat on her own.
Brooklyn had about 15 seizures the next night from sodium levels dropping too fast, Teresa said, but progress, slowly but surely, was made.
“It was rough at first, wondering if you made the right choices,” Jeff said.
He also said her recovery at times “has kind of been like the stock market, up, down, up, down.”
In addition, the inside of Brooklyn’s brain has not healed, but is not worsening, Jeff said.
After spending weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit, Brooklyn was moved to a therapy floor.
Initially, doctors said Brooklyn, who turns 3 on Dec. 16, would have permanent memory loss and could grow up deaf and blind.
As more days pass, more odds are defeated.
She has remembered family members. Her daycare class sent a scrapbook full of photos of classmates. Teresa said she’s pointed out friends right and left.
For weeks, Brooklyn couldn’t see, but while her eyesight was nearly nonexistent, her hearing was, by all accounts, strong.
When a helicopter would land at the hospital, Brooklyn would cover her ears, though Teresa said she could barely hear the aircraft. The television has to be kept at a certain level that’s not too loud for Brooklyn.
“Her hearing has improved so much because she hasn’t seen this whole entire time,” Teresa said.
Then, the weekend of Nov. 7, sight returned to Brooklyn’s left eye.
It’s possible sight eventually will return to her right eye, which has a broken bone protruding into it. Surgery may need to be an option if double vision were to develop in that right eye, but the only other reason for surgery — which would be extensive — would be more cosmetic than anything, and Teresa said risks would outweigh the positives.
Those Cheetos that Brooklyn loves to eat have to be monitored closely. Because of her injuries, the right side of Brooklyn’s face doesn’t really function, much like that of a person who has suffered from a stroke. Teresa and Jeff give Brooklyn small pieces of the snack and look over her mouth carefully as she’s eating to make sure no pieces remain.
The curly blonde 2-year-old, who can blow kisses and waves emphatically at her nurses, sweetly looks at her dad, wanting more of the snack, but she’s had enough for the afternoon.
Brooklyn has continued to graduate to more solid foods. She still has a feeding tube attached to her stomach — an appendage the active Brooklyn likes to grab hold of, much to her mother’s chagrin. But the 2-year-old has gone from taking liquids by mouth to pureed macaroni and cheese and the like. On Sunday, she was eating an afternoon meal of eggs, pancakes, tater tots, pudding and green beans.
“Happy plate,” Brooklyn said to her parents.
In the Sickman household, happy plate is said when Brooklyn does a good job of eating what’s on her plate.
Some words still are a work in progress. Brooklyn says “Yo,” for instance, when she wants yogurt.
She continues to relearn words and how to work.
As her mother said, her mind thinks it can do all of these activities, but her body has to relearn the actions.
But the determination is there.
On Sunday, Brooklyn wanted to get into bed or her “tent,” as she calls the hospital bed enclosed with a tent-like mesh covering. She crawled as best she could from one end to the other, her father nearby.
“Her body reacts quickly and she can’t really control it,” Teresa said.
According to Teresa, walking is not necessarily the difficult obstacle to relearn. Right now, a sense of balance is what therapists are trying to help Brooklyn regain. Again, Brooklyn has made strides in that department. Previously, Brooklyn had trouble keeping her head held straight. Now, she has more control over her neck and head.
The Sickmans were getting ready to leave their friends’ farm in rural Tonganoxie when Brooklyn asked her mother whether she could join her brothers playing in a barn.
Teresa said the barn was full of sawdust and to move the sawdust more easily, a stall gate was unhinged and moved. Teresa said she’s still not sure what exactly happened that day, but she thought Brooklyn climbed on the gate to see what her older brothers, Christian, 10, and Nick, 6, were doing.
Christian and Nick, as well as sister, Saryn, 13, haven’t been able to see much of Brooklyn since she’s been in the hospital. Early on, Teresa didn’t think it would be too difficult for the older children to see Brooklyn. They were able to visit her on a couple occasions. Since then, because of several cases of respiratory illness, the hospital enacted a lockdown for anyone younger than 18 who was not a patient. Any other interaction has taken place in the Children’s Mercy Hospital lobby.
That, however, is expected to change. Doctors plan to release Brooklyn before Thanksgiving, so anytime next week Brooklyn could be back home with all of her family.
Community comes together
A benefit taco feed, silent auction and cakewalk took place Saturday in Tonganoxie for Brooklyn.
An overflow crowd of roughly 300 people attended the event, at which Teresa spoke.
“Fifty percent of the people there I didn’t even know,” Teresa said, noting she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. “Just wonderful people who came and know her story.”
Teresa’s parents live near Basehor and have offered for her family to live there, but Teresa said they can’t leave a town that has been so supportive.
“We couldn’t move from here,” she said. “There’s no way.”
“Tongie stuck with us,” he said.
The family also has persevered through Brooklyn’s ordeal through the power of prayer, Teresa said.
“We just prayed nonstop all day 24 hours a day, just didn’t sleep, but prayed,” she said. “There are prayer chains all around the United States.”
One by one, it appears those prayers are being answered, just in time for Brooklyn to enjoy some Thanksgiving fixings — and some more Cheetos of course.