Just one week before Christmas in 2009, Ashlyn of Olyphant did what any other 5-year-old would do with a snowy day and a hill: go sledding.
As her older brother, Ryan, and her father, Wally, watched Ashlyn slide down the hill in their backyard, excitement quickly turned to panic. Ashlyn veered off-course. Wally was running after her when she collided with a fallen tree.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” says Wally. “It’s not about what you see, but it’s what you feel. I just felt powerless over everything.”
A branch – about 6 inches long and the diameter of a dime – had punctured her eye lid and now was lodged in her eye socket, pushing down on her eyeball. Terrified, Wally found the strength to carry his daughter into to the house and call for help.
Ashlyn’s mother, Jill, was at work at the time of the accident.
”It was around four o’clock and my husband called me in a panic and told me that Ashlyn had an accident and there’s a stick in her eye…I remember just saying to him ‘call 911!’”
Ashlyn was rushed to her local community hospital, where a CT scan showed that the branch had punctured her brain. With her life now in danger, a Life Flight® medical helicopter transferred her to Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital for more specialized treatment.
A series of operations on both her brain and her eye had to take place simultaneously as soon as Ashlyn arrived in Danville. Only time would tell how well Ashlyn’s recovery would go.
”The amazing thing about Ashlyn and her family was how calm and collected they were throughout the entire experience,” recalls Dr. Michael Ryan, Chief of Pediatrics for Geisinger Health System.
Ashlyn spent the next 12 hours on a respirator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit but soon amazed everyone with her rapid progression and high spirits – despite being temporarily blinded because of swelling.
Three days later, she opened her eyes for the first time and had a last-minute visit with Santa Claus via a webcam brought to her hospital room. Not only did she ask Santa to bring herself a doll on Christmas morning, but she asked him to bring her brother a gift, too.
“This is a great example of why you need a great children’s hospital,” says Dr. Ryan. “All of our kids go out and do things like sleigh ride, we never know when they may have a sever accident.”
Only five days after her surgery, Ashlyn went home – just in time to open her presents on Christmas morning. And though the family had plenty of reasons to be grateful, Ashlyn had just one more: Santa had brought her the doll that she wanted after all.
Children’s Miracle Network at Geisinger provided funds for medical equipment to help doctors treat children such as Ashlyn – including monitors, ventilators and medication pumps — as well as for items such as recliners in the patients’ rooms.