Three-year-old Molly is the laid-back kid in the Felker family. A social butterfly with a beautiful smile and striking, chocolate brown eyes, Molly easily makes friends and captures hearts. Dora the Explorer tops her favorites list, along with bike rides with her mom, Stacy, and singing and dancing. She adores her dad, Mike, and siblings Beth, 19, Jacob, 13, and Gabby, 10. Molly favors the color pink, enjoys wearing her hair in pigtails and swinging in the park.
Family members lovingly call her “Molly Dolly” or “Molly Hot Tamale.” Her most recent pet name, “Miracle Molly,” refers to the toddler’s resilience in reclaiming her carefree life after nearly choking to death last spring.
“It all happened so fast,” said Stacy. On Sunday, March 4, 2012, the family was having hot dogs for lunch at their home in Omaha, Neb. They cut up one for Molly, but she grabbed one off another plate, took a bite and choked. Mike frantically began the Heimlich maneuver on his daughter. Stacy remembers him yelling to call 911 – Molly couldn’t breathe. “It was unbelievable - like something in a movie,” Stacy said. By the time paramedics arrived, the youngster was limp, barely responsive and turning blue. The team worked on her for ten minutes. As the ambulance rushed Molly to Lakeside Hospital, the hot dog finally broke loose and her pulse returned. Once stabilized, Molly was transported to the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.
Molly, a happy-go-lucky girl who could count to 20 in English and Spanish, had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from the lack of oxygen. She lay in a medically-induced coma to let her brain heal. When Molly transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital on March 28, her evaluation was extremely low, a 1-2 on the Rancho Scale, a TBI assessment tool. She had a trach, feeding tube and was in a wheelchair. “We just wanted our old Molly back,” said Stacy.
Molly physically struggled with “storming” – horrible muscle spasms that racked the toddler’s body. She battled pneumonia twice. Once the right combination of medications kicked in, Molly was able to sit up and take bites of Italian ice. With her tiny hands, arms and feet wrapped in casts to increase her range of motion, Molly forged ahead into rehabilitation. “Here’s my little girl, covered from shoulder to toes in splints, yet she’s so strong!” said Stacy, proudly.
In April, the respiratory therapists tried a speaking valve on Molly’s trach and Stacy heard her daughter’s cry for the first time in a month. “I was so happy; it brought tears to my eyes.”
The Snoezelen Room exposed Molly to sensory stimuli, like brightly lit toys and fiber optic lights. The multisensory approach is found to be effective with children who have brain injury. Stacy observed Molly literally ‘waking up’ and her eyes began tracking. “Those little accomplishments are monumental for kids with injuries like Molly’s,” Stacy remarked.
By spring, Molly was eating applesauce, could stand upright in the standing frame and visited the Lincoln Zoo. A huge turning point was evident in the return of her trademark smile. “I felt like we had our baby back, her personality and that big, beautiful smile,” said Stacy.
Molly’s therapists helped her play dress up, donning princess clothes, a boa and sunglasses. Practicing getting dressed was a therapy game for Molly. Speech therapy became art class as she flexed her fine motor skills creating a Father’s Day card for Mike.
By July, Molly’s hands are steering a grocery cart and she’s painting pictures with her feet. Her fingers carefully plant beans in a cup, to water and watch them grow. Molly is blossoming, too. Within a month, she transfers to the Rehabilitation Day Program. She calls the little brick house on Normal Boulevard home. It saves Stacy the commute back and forth from Omaha. “The onsite housing is a great benefit and allows Molly to focus on her therapies.”
Hours in aqua therapy address Molly’s head control. The FES bike and Lokomat boost her physical stamina. “The Lokomat made a huge difference and also increased her respiratory strength,” said Stacy.
As 2013 begins, Molly surprises everyone by crawling and trying to walk. “Go Molly, go!” became the mantra of her family and therapy team. The NTrainer is introduced to help Molly regain the sucking reflex. Michelle Foley, SLP, explains Molly is the first child to use the specialized technology at Madonna. “Our New Year’s present was seeing her progress.”
Another role therapists play is educating the parents, like Stacy, on technology. “I can do therapy all day long, but if I haven’t provided education on how it helps their child, then I haven’t done my job,” said Michelle. Within a month of NTrainer therapy, Molly reaches another goal, closing her mouth, sucking her juice through a sippy cup.
One year from her admission date, Molly is trach-free and walks 60 feet with assistance. She’s reciting colors and playing Candyland. “It’s been a journey of tears, laughter and hope,” said Stacy, who is proud of her daughter. “We are blessed to have an awesome rehab facility this close to home.”
Molly continues outpatient therapy, will attend a preschool transition program and enjoys home life. A strong faith carries the family through Molly’s recovery and they feel God has a special plan for her. “God is good and we keep praying for our Miracle Molly.”