SunRidge Elementary fifth-grader Kloe Rodriguez is fighting to walk again after an Aug. 25 car crash left her paralyzed from the waist down.
She is in a rehabilitation center in Jacksonville, where she is undergoing daily physical therapy and has a halo screwed into her skull to stabilize the torn and stretched ligaments in her neck.
Her mother, Lydia Alvarez, worries if her daughter will ever take steps again, but she has the additional fear of how she is going to pay the increasing medical bills and her rent and other household bills.
“We don’t have a discharge date yet, but we know the insurance only covers 14 days, so we’re playing it by ear to see how long we can stay here,” Alvarez said.
She said her daughter is trying to stay upbeat through this ordeal.
“She’s doing better than I am,” Alvarez said. “She’s a little firecracker. She’s in great spirits, active. She’s shocking everyone. She just wants to get in her wheelchair and (move) around. She has her moments, down days. She gets grouchy, and she’s just like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’
“Kloe wants to go home, she wants to see her friends, she wants to go back to school,” Alvarez said. “She was one that couldn’t wait for school to start, so for her to start school and this happened in week three — she was devastated. She’s like, ‘I’ll go to school in my wheelchair.’”
For now, Kloe’s education is on hold until her physical health is stable. Once she is home, a homeschool plan will be made.
Life changed in an instant the night of Aug. 25 while Alvarez was at her job with UPS. She got a phone call that her son and younger daughter had been in a bad car crash. According to Alvarez, her 17-year-old son was driving the family’s only car. He veered off the road about two blocks from their house and hit a fire hydrant; the car flipped twice, and then an oncoming car hit theirs.
“It was triple action; it was pretty intense,” she said.
The car landed on its roof, with Kloe hanging upside down from her car seat. Her older brother crawled into the backseat, unbuckled her and held her until someone stopped.
“Thank the Lord someone drove by and stopped and spoke to them and was able to calm them down until the ambulance showed up,” Alvarez said.
“It’s insane the way the world works,” she said. “I didn’t know this person existed until I posted on the Nextdoor app. I had mentioned the accident and was curious if anyone knew or had seen what had happened. … Sure enough, someone contacted me. (He said:) “I was so worried about your kids. I was the first person who came across the accident.”
The man who called 911 for them also has been checking on the family.
Kloe was rushed to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, and she remained there about two-and-one-half weeks before she was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville.
Doctors have said Kloe has two serious injuries. The first is a severe bruise on her spine, called a T-10 Complete Injury Grade A on the ASIA impairment scale, which, due to the impact, affected the nerves to her legs. The second injury is to her neck, where she has torn and stretched ligaments.
“When she arrived at the hospital, her skull was separated from her spine,” Alvarez said. “She’s in a halo for the next three months until her ligaments heal.”
The halo placement has been the only surgery so far. Doctors aren’t recommending further surgery because of Kloe’s size, Alvarez said.
“They said, ‘Let’s wait it out, see how it heals, see if any of the nerves come back within the next two years,’” she said.
Kloe has physical and occupational therapy daily, and every day the therapists work on a different part of her body. Improving her arm strength is important so her upper body is strong enough for her to move herself from the bed to the wheelchair. Their goal also is to keep her leg muscles moving so they don’t atrophy.
“It’s the kind of injury that most patients are paralyzed for the rest of their life, but they’re saying with the technology they have and her being so young, she might be able to gain some movement in the next few years,” Alvarez said. “We’re just praying for the best. I can’t see my child living the rest of her life like this. She’s 10.”
Life is on hold for the single mother and her family.
“I had to stop my life; I had to stop working,” Alvarez said. “I had to leave UPS.”
The lack of household income concerns Alvarez, but her daughter comes first. A cousin created a crowd-funding page that will help, she said.
“That’s taking a lot of stress off my shoulders,” Alvarez said. “Rent is due soon, and the bills don’t stop coming. It’s hard to just blank out everything in my life and concentrate on this situation. … I’m hoping things work out.”
Another worry is where the family will live once they return to Orlando. The 1,100-square-foot home they currently rent has a small hallway to the bedrooms that will not accommodate Kloe’s wheelchair. When Kloe goes home, she will temporarily be set up in the living room so all her needs can be met.
The wrecked car was the family’s only means of transportation, so Alvarez is trying to figure out how to replace that, as well, so she can get to work and get Kloe to her appointments and school.
For now, Alvarez is staying in Jacksonville. She has been staying in Kloe’s room at the rehab center and has not left her daughter’s side since she was admitted.
Periodic messages from friends and classmates have helped cheer up Kloe since she has been away from school. SunRidge Elementary sent a care package last week that included blankets and coloring books. While at the hospital, Kloe received a stack of cards and some restaurant gift cards that have come in handy as the family remains away from home.
“I need all the help I can get,” Alvarez said matter-of-factly.