Sara De Witt Struggling, But Considered Miracle Child

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Talking with 12-year-old Sara De Witt, you can't believe that only eight months and 18 days ago, no one thought she would live.

You can't believe that a young girl this pretty and this smart suffered three skull fractures and a disastrous level of brain damage.

That accident occurred Jan. 5, as Sara and her mother, Julie, were on a New Mexico highway, returning home from a holiday trip. When Julie swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle, she lost control of her own car and it rolled over three times. Sara was ejected onto the road. Some passersby thought she was dead. Others, including the paramedics who arrived on the scene, were certain she would die.

Even when doctors concluded that she would likely not die from her injuries, they did fear along with her father, Payson pediatrician Dr, Dexter De Witt that Sara would never function at a normal level, or anything resembling a normal level, again.

But three days later, Sara opened her eyes and began to talk. A month later, she was sent home from the Carrie-Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque.

And today, she continues to progress at a rate her doctors call "phenomenal," that her mother calls "amazing," and that her father still frets over.

"I think it's my hypercritical parenting; only complaining about what isn't right and not praising the positive things," Dr. De Witt said. "We always want more. Isn't that selfish?

"Sara's doing as well as can be expected," Julie said. "Tuesday, her doctor reminded us sometimes we even forget that Sara had a very serious brain injury. When school started, there was anxiety pressure to do well; it was the first time she had been in school all day, and she burned out almost right away."

Sara's brain still fatigues easily, Julie said. She gets confused, she gets overtired, and she gets frustrated "because she's a perfectionist. She always has been. It's hard for her knowing that she's not doing quite as well as she was before the accident."

And in some areas, Dr. De Witt said, Sara is better than ever.

"Her ability to concentrate, her appreciation of music, her ability to play the piano seems to have improved," he said. "Her ability to draw, the symmetry of her penmanship, her mind-to-hand (coordination), all that is better."

One of the things that has distressed both Dr. De Witt and his wife is that Sara's progress, so rapid in the weeks following the accident, has slowed down to the point where, at times, it seems like she's backtracking.

"I wondered if that means she's gotten as well as she is going to get," Julie said, "but Sara's doctor said that her recovery will extend for years and that as more time passes, the slower the recovery process becomes.

"She is still improving; we just don't see it because we're with her every day."

Still, Julie knows that her daughter is a bona fide miracle child.

"That's what her doctor said; that she is doing phenomenally well ... Her science teacher told me that, right now, she's got a 95 percent. And she's doing well in all her other classes. ... She has all the same friends as she did before ... She was on the swim team over the summer, she stayed up all night and walked in the Relay for Life, and when the evacuees were in town, she got up one morning at 4:30 a.m. to go fix breakfast for them."

Sara shrugs off the special attention. In her view, she's just doing the things she enjoys doing.

She has no memory of the accident, she said. There is a gaping hole in her recollection between the moment she was in the car, reaching down to get a cereal bar and waking up, attached to all manner of machinery, in the hospital.

"I remember that my room was filled with balloons and flowers," Sara said with a smile. "And we went for ice cream."

Right now, she said, she suffers only one annoying aftereffect of the accident: "I get distracted easier when I'm reading. If someone is tapping a pencil or something, I have a hard time concentrating."

Sara's thoughts

I am a girl who survived a car accident.

I wonder what my dad's reaction was when someone told him about my car accident.

I hear my mom trying to talk to me while I'm laying on the road half dead.

I see all six of my sisters and brothers crying.

I want to get up off the ground and tell my mom I'll be okay.

I am a girl who survived a car accident.

I pretend everything is all right, when it's not.

I feel how sad everyone was when they heard about my car accident.

I touch the Lord's hand and then go right back to earth.

I worry I will not live.

I cry about how lucky I am to still be living.

I am a girl who survived a car accident.

I understand my days are precious.

I say half the world is praying for me.

I dream it never happened.

I try to forget about it.

I hope my future is happy.

I am a girl who survived a car accident.

12-year-old Sara De Witt, regarding her near-fatal car accident earlier this year

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