Brisa Bustos points to her mouth and says, “Guess what I lost?”
The six-year-old doesn't wait for an answer and quickly blurts out “My tooth!” Brisa is excited the tooth fairy came to the Alexis Verzal Children's Rehabilitation Hospital at Madonna in Lincoln, Neb., where she has regained much more than a cuspid after sustaining a traumatic brain injury this summer.
Brisa Bustos points to her mouth and says, "Guess what I lost?"
The six-year-old doesn't wait for an answer and quickly blurts out "My tooth!" Brisa is excited the tooth fairy came to the Alexis Verzal Children's Rehabilitation Hospital at Madonna in Lincoln, Neb., where she has regained much more than a cuspid after sustaining a traumatic brain injury this summer.
On July 18, Brisa was sitting in her sister Helen's pink battery-operated Jeep near their mailbox on Sunnyside in Dodge City when she was struck by a Dodge truck driven by an alleged drunk driver. The high-speed impact pushed the miniature Jeep past four houses until it hit a curb, sending Brisa airborne.
"It looked like a trick billiard shot and Brisa was a ball," said her father, George, who watched in horror and ran to pick up his daughter's limp body.
Rescue responders took Brisa to Western Plains Regional Medical Center in Dodge City where she was stabilized and then lifeflighted to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kan.
Doctors determined Brisa had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and might not survive. As Brisa lay unconscious in the pediatric intensive care unit, family and friends prayed for a miracle. George and his wife, Perla, recited a simple prayer to God for their daughter - "Please don't die."
Brisa's parents said they'd never heard of TBI until Brisa's accident. An Internet search provided a quick education. "We 'Googled searched' traumatic brain injury and Madonna came up first," said George. They learned rehabilitation would help restore their daughter's independence. Jamie Colson, Madonna nurse liaison, explained how their specialized brain injury program would be tailored to Brisa and that was a big encouragement to her parents.
"I cried tears of joy when Brisa got accepted to Madonna," George said.
By August 2, Brisa had lost nearly 15 pounds, was on a feeding tube and unresponsive when she transferred to Madonna. The little girl who loves school, cheerleading and teen music idol Justin Bieber, couldn't hold her head up or swallow. Brisa's treatment team helped her family set realistic goals to maximize her recovery.
Restoring Brisa's mobility began with getting her to sit up and gradually progressed to sessions on the Lokomat®, a robotic gait training device. Speech language therapists helped Brisa re-engage her swallowing muscles and coaxed her to talk. On Aug. 28, Brisa enjoyed her first meal without the feeding tube and a few days later uttered her first word, "Mommy." A month later, Brisa was riding the train at the local zoo and eating pizza.
The fund-raisers and hometown support from Dodge City touched Brisa's parents deeply. George's employer, O'Reilly Auto Parts, graciously found him a temporary position in the Lincoln store so he could stay close to Brisa. Family watched over five-year-old Helen. The supportive gestures allowed George and Perla to focus on Brisa 24/7.
"We never gave up on her - never lost hope," said George, who decorated his daughter's room with a Justin Bieber poster.
Brisa's trademark smile and personality won the hearts of many during her time at Madonna. She celebrated her successes by extending one small hand in the air and demanding a "high five." Brisa's cognitive skills soared during occupational therapy and recreational therapy games, along with the Wednesday Bingo that she loved. The teachers in Madonna's Kit Scott Therapeutic Learning Center sharpened the first grader's reading and math skills.
"Brisa always has a smile on her face, loves school and is ready to learn," teacher Laura Bennett said. "She is very proud of her accomplishments," she added.
The countdown to home ended on Oct. 25 when Brisa returned to Dodge City. She uses a walker, but can walk 10 to 20 steps independently. She couldn't wait to crawl into her bunk bed in the room she shares with Helen and see her dog Goku.
"I'm a lot stronger now!" Brisa said.
Abigail Wilson, Dodge City Daily Globe, also contributed to this article.