Family copes with lasting effects of food poisoning
1/23/2009 9:35:02 PM
Source of Article: http://news.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=10&a=381721
By Jeff Hansel
It's easy to imagine why neither Sharon Smith nor her son, Will, feel comfortable leaving Will's sister alone.
Stephanie Smith, 21, became acutely ill more than a year ago after eating a hamburger tainted with bacteria called Escherichia coli.
Seizures coupled with many complications caused brain injury and paralysis.
But through her own determination, and the determination of her family, Stephanie has regained the ability to eat, has a social life and maintains a schedule of three hours of therapy daily.
She has taken physical, occupational and speech therapy, along with therapy to counteract the effects of the brain injury. She keeps a positive attitude, even though she misses teaching dance, her great love prior to getting sick.
"I cry in the shower. I get really angry sometimes, and I try and accept it, and I always ask, 'Why me?,'" she said. But she finds the ability to smile and stay focused on the future, not the past.
"Showers take a long time, because
you have to be careful,"
"I had no idea until I started
lifting Steph. I hurt her, like on the legs of the
Do that, and the chair slides quickly out from behind while Sharon or Will stands awkwardly trying to prevent Stephanie from falling backward.
Care involves commitment
The family's new way of life requires an unspoken commitment from all involved -- tenderness from Stephanie's aunt, brother and mom, and a concerted effort to keep a positive mental attitude from Stephanie herself.
Her typical day now is different than it was before she got sick.
"I wake up. Somebody's there to take care of me," she said. She goes through three hours of therapy daily before returning home with her brother.
"Then I watch a bunch of TV, because that's my only alone time," she said.
"Stephanie really likes her alone time, and I do too,"
It helps to have a van with a ramp. But for Stephanie, sitting on a car seat is more comfortable. So Will and his mother try to take the car when the trip will be a long one.
That means folding the wheelchair and putting it in the trunk after lifting Stephanie into the front seat. And a reverse process going in, and then the process is repeated when coming home.
"I'm sad when I see Stephanie
suffer. But I'm really happy when I see how good Steph
has taken it,"
Stephanie is grateful for her family's care.
"I think they're amazing. The fact that my brother moved home for me, that was just really strange, and really amazing," she said.
Will Smith moved back to
"You can never appreciate your kids
Watching dance team difficult
Stephanie recently got to watch her dance group compete, kids she used to teach.
"My team took first place. It was really, really hard because I wasn't part of it," she said. But she beams when she notes that the kids took first place.
She had been kind of a workaholic before she got sick. She taught dance at Just for Kix, worked at Orange Julius and decorated cakes at Dairy Queen, where her mother still works.
"Our whole life is different. I
don't go anywhere, because I don't want to leave Steph
The brain injury has changed some of the ways Stephanie responds, although her personality still shines through. It can be frustrating for her, because she says things that, to others, seem humorous.
"I don't think I'm funny, but they do," she says, looking over at her mom and brother.
Her dog Lola, a shih tzu, comforts her. And Will has a pit bull -- but the shih tzu is the "alpha dog."
"I hang out with my cousin, or my cousin and my boyfriend and his family," Stephanie says.
Their carefree, joyous attitude could make their life seem misleadingly simple if it weren't for the process of getting in and out of the car. But their life at home is much more complicated.
"It's hard," Will said. "We pretty much got a schedule. I mean, mom's got work."
Some positive changes
"We ended up laying her on the
"I was on the floor. It's a good thing I can roll," Stephanie said.
"I deal with problems and conflicts
and kids and customers,"
Stephanie, too, is positive about what happened.
"I probably have more of a life now than I did then," Stephanie said. "I just want my miracle. I just want to wake up and walk."
"I have the best family in the world. Family is the best thing when you go through something traumatic," Stephanie said. "My whole community of Cold Spring has been great to me."
Community members raised money to help.
"I don't really think we could have
kept our house without them during the really tough times,"
Simple things become complex
"He was man enough to come home and
help me with all of this. He's given up a lot. More than I know; more than
anybody will probably ever know,"
"It's hard to complain about anything when you're having a bad day," Will says. "She doesn't get down about anything."
"I don't think you can appreciate
things enough, with what we went through,"
"My dancers have been a big part of helping me through it," Stephanie said. Dancer instructors have told her she's missed by the dancers.
"It makes me happy, but sad at the same time," she said.
But despite the sacrifices, the Smith
family remains grateful that Stephanie survived and has a high quality of
life because of the care from her mom, aunt and brother.
"I've been given the greatest gift of my daughter, and of course my son," she said.
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