Near Amputation Causes Abrupt Change in Plans for Elmhurst Girl Eager to Start Freshman Year at York
Community supports family with fund-raiser this Friday, Sept. 9.
Carolyn White was wrapping up her summer with a trip to the Isle of Palms, a picturesque, tropical paradise just off the coast of South Carolina. It was late July, and the 14-year-old seized the opportunity to join her friend and her friend's family on the trip before beginning her first year at York High School.
School was starting early this year—Aug. 18—and she would have just enough time after hitting the beaches to unwind and prepare for life as a freshman. She had spent her previous school years at Immaculate Conception Grade School, so this year was sure to bring big changes.
Big changes did come, but they weren't in the form of a new gym uniform and having to ask for directions to English class.
Carolyn never made it to her first day at York, and it probably will be many months before she ever steps foot inside the school. She spends most of her time now in a wheelchair, rods and screws drilled into her bones to keep her leg motionless.
Started Out a Normal Day
It's not unusual to see the small, golf-cart type cars cruising around on the streets of the Isle of Palms, Carolyn's mom, Rita White, said.
"They're called low-speed vehicles," she said. "(They were) in a community where you would use those to maybe drive to the beach or grocery store. It looks like a golf cart, but they go faster than a golf cart. You can fit probably six people on them."
On July 30, Carolyn joined the family she was vacationing with to go pick up a rented LSV. They headed back to the house, with Carolyn sitting on the back bench of the vehicle, on the right side.
"The driver probably was going a little too fast, maybe made too sharp of a turn, and the vehicle flipped over on its right side," Rita said.
As it flipped, Carolyn fell out and the vehicle landed on top of her, crushing her leg.
"Somehow, her leg wound up underneath it," Rita said. "The cart was on top of her. It shattered her tibia, fibula, (severed) the dorsal nerve that runs down the back side of her leg, two of her main arteries—it was all destroyed."
The doctors told them that in most cases, an injury like this would require amputation.
"But based on her age and being in good health, they made an attempt at keeping her foot attached," Rita said.
Carolyn went into surgery immediately after the accident, as her mom raced to South Carolina from Michigan, where she was staying with her sisters at their lake house. The next day, Carolyn's foot turned purple and she was back in surgery again to get her blood flowing.
The injuries in the initial stages were life threatening, Rita said.
"She had a couple of blood transfusions while she was down there, a lot of surgeries. She was weakened by not eating, a lot of pain killers," Rita said.
Rita spent an entire month with her daughter at the hospital. Rita's husband, Dan, held down the fort at home and continued working, visiting the hospital on weekends.
Six surgeries later, Medical University of South Carolina released Carolyn to make the trip back to Elmhurst and begin her recovery at home.
Only Just the Beginning
"On Thursday (Aug. 25) we made the two-day trek home in a conversion van. We got home Friday around dinner time," Rita said Aug. 31. "Yesterday we saw the orthopedic guy, today we're going to a plastic surgeon."
Carolyn has had muscle grafts, a skin graft, a nerve graft. The injury begins about 3 to 4 inches above the ankle, in the shin area.
"She's not in a ton of pain right now because she doesn't have a lot of feeing in that area," said Rita, who provides Carolyn's wound care. "We're hoping she regains at least some sensation on the bottom of her foot. We're hoping this nerve graft works, but that can take up to a year because nerves grow very slowly."
Carolyn had been an Irish dancer up until the age of about 12. She played basketball and volleyball at ICGS until last May, when she graduated. She was planning on doing sports at York, but that's not going to happen now.
"At least not this year," Rita said.
The fixator device is going to be on for six to nine months, and it will be at least that long before Carolyn can start school at York. In the meantime, she has a tutor.
An Outpouring of Help
Rita has been unable to continue her work as an appraiser while caring for Carolyn. She also has two other daughters: Abby is a senior at York, and Megan, a junior at St. Louis University.
The support from the community has been overwhelming, Rita said.
"My neighbors have been wonderful," Rita said. "My friends in Elmhurst have been great."
They set up the Carolyn White Medical Fund at Chase Bank, 163 N. York Road, for anyone who would like to help the family pay the enormous medical bills. Friends also have scheduled a fund-raiser from 7 to 11 p.m. this Friday, Sept. 9, at a private home in Elmhurst. The event will include live bands, a silent auction and raffle, with all proceeds going toward Carolyn's care.
Anyone interested in donating can contact Chase Bank at (630) 617-4747. To attend the benefit Friday, call Sue Hoerster at (630) 935-5956 for directions and more information.
This, Too, Shall Pass
Carolyn is keeping her spirits up, Rita said.
"There are going to be ups and downs with her recovery," she said. "She's a pretty strong kid, pretty resilient. She's just been through a lot and has taken it really well.
"She's a very brave little girl."