Rylee Robinson smiles as she rolls up her gray pant leg. “It’s awesome!” exclaims the 13-year-old, rubbing her hand gently across the top of her shiny, new prosthetic leg adorned with bright, red cherries.
Rylee loves playing competitive softball and her nickname is “Cherries.” Jason Dean, a certified prosthetist with Hanger, Inc., personalized Rylee’s prosthetic leg by laminating it with the colorful fabric donated by her mom, Kelli.
A titanium rod connects the custom-made socket to a molded foot nestled inside Rylee’s size 12 black New Balance tennis shoe with pink fluorescent laces. “I like it, but it was hard getting adjusted to it,” admits Rylee, who lost her leg in an accident on May 6.
Rylee and her best friend, Callee, were spending the afternoon riding bicycles in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, when a car struck Rylee from behind. She flew off her bike, hit the car’s windshield and bounced to the ground. Rylee wasn’t wearing a helmet. The violent impact left the young middle schooler with life-threatening injuries — a ruptured spleen, fractured pelvis, a traumatic brain injury and her left leg was amputated below the knee.
“The doctors weren’t sure she’d survive,” said Kelli, when her daughter was rushed to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. Rylee’s father, Shawn, was stationed in Afghanistan and granted emergency leave to return home. “It was the scariest thing we’d gone through as parents,” said Kelli.
“Rylee Strong,” was the cheer her family adopted as she competed, number 16, playing first base and shortstop. “She has a mindset of determination,” said Kelli.
Rylee transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital 32 days later — unable to walk, talk or breathe independently -— but she is a fighter and a survivor.
Shawn reluctantly left his daughter to rejoin his naval unit. But, within a week, his mood lifted as Rylee’s beautiful smile flashed on his computer screen when they connected via Skype, a video-chat service.
Rylee’s name means “courageous” and the competitor in her surfaced during weeks of physical, occupational and speech therapy. Successes came in baby steps — standing on her right leg, playing a card game, weaning from the trach and feeding tubes. Nearly two months post accident, Rylee spoke her first word, “Mom” to an elated Kelli.
As Rylee progressed, she practiced flexing her trial prosthetic leg on the Body Weight Support Treadmill. Recreational therapy outings of bowling and tennis challenged the athlete in her.
The University of Nebraska women’s softball team adopted Rylee as an honorary team member. The coaches and players paid her several visits and invited her to practice with them. On Sept. 20, the confident young teen knocked a ball into the outfield and ran the bases, aided by Scott Fandrich, physical therapist. “How she was treated and received by the team was amazing for Rylee,” said Fandrich, who has no doubt the young athlete will return to the ball diamond. “Severe brain injury on top of amputation - what an amazing recovery!”
On Oct. 14, Shawn returned home and an emotional Rylee surprised everyone as she walked unassisted to bear-hug her father.
“I just like doing things on my own again,” said Rylee, that ever present smile spreading across her face. “And, I’m so thankful to be alive.”