Minooka teen makes ‘amazing’ recovery from near fatal injuries
By Tony Graf email@example.com August 26, 2012 4:12PM
Kelsey Little, 14, of Minooka, is pictured in her bedroom at her family's home Friday July 13, 2012. Life is returning to normal for her less than a year after she was severely injured in a crash on McEvilly Road in October 2011. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 28, 2012 6:02AM
Kelsey Little had been struck by an oncoming pickup truck while walking along McEvilly Road. Her injuries were so severe that all the bones in her face were broken, leaving part of her skull exposed as a result of the impact, her family said. Kelsey’s mother, Nancy Deckelman, still remembers her daughter’s words after the 13-year-old Minooka girl was transported to the emergency room at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. “She kept saying, ‘Mom, I love you. I love you,’” Deckelman recalled. “‘I know I’m going to die, but don’t be sad.’ I said: ‘You have angels watching over you. You have Papa watching over you. You’re not going to die,’” Deckelman added. “Here she is, worrying about me — worried I would be sad.” That’s Kelsey Little. As her friends say, “Little But Strong.”
A brain scan revealed Kelsey was suffering from severe head trauma, which threatened to take her life, Deckelman said. Hours after the accident, Kelsey was airlifted to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Kelsey Little was in for a fight for her life.
Last fall, Kelsey was an eighth-grader at Channahon Junior High School. She received top grades in school, played soccer and took dance classes several times a week.
This is the story of how her life changed in an instant, as told to The Herald-News by her family and friends.
At 6:48 p.m. Oct. 16, Kelsey and two friends were returning home from getting ice cream from a shop in Minooka. The teens were walking east on an unpaved path along the side of McEvilly Road. An oncoming vehicle struck Kelsey, Minooka police said.
Another motorist called 911, and paramedics were dispatched to the scene. One of Kelsey’s friends — both of whom were unharmed — grabbed Kelsey’s phone and frantically dialed Nancy.
“I kept saying: ‘Kelsey, where are you? What’s wrong?’” Nancy recalled, desperately trying to determine what was happening on the other end of the line.
With her husband and son out with the family cars, Nancy ran to a neighbor’s home when Chris McCabe, whose daughter, Amanda, had been walking with Kelsey, pulled into the driveway of the home and informed her of the tragic news. Upon arriving at the scene, Nancy immediately spotted the gash across Kelsey’s forehead, exposing a portion of her skull. Kelsey was dazed and barely conscious.
“She kept saying, ‘Where am I?’ She definitely was in shock,” Deckelman said.
The driver of the vehicle involved in the accident was a 16-year-old male from Channahon, according to police and court records. The teen was charged with failure to reduce speed and no valid drivers license. His mother also was charged with allowing an unauthorized person to drive. A September status hearing has been set in Grundy County Circuit Court. An attorney for the defendants declined to comment on the case. However, he did wish to express a sincere hope for a speedy recovery.
On the other side of the case, Martin Dolan, of Dolan Law, was retained by Kelsey’s family.
“This accident never should have happened and was entirely preventable because the driver never should have been on the road in the first place,” Dolan said. “Kelsey was a happy, normal 14-year-old girl but her entire life changed in a split second because of these poor decisions. Kelsey now has to live with those consequences for the rest of her life.”
Neurosurgeons at Children’s Memorial Hospital worked to close Kelsey’s head wounds the next morning. For the five days that followed, Kelsey remained in guarded condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“The right side of her body was all black and blue,” Nancy said, noting the impact of the collision threw Kelsey into the guardrail. “I wouldn’t wish having to see your child that way on any parent.”
Kelsey was prescribed strong pain medication and remained in a neck brace during her stay at the hospital and for two weeks upon her release, as doctors feared permanent neck and spinal damage.
Kelsey’s health problems have persisted since the accident. Early this year, she suffered two separate instances of hematomas — swelling at the location of the skull fracture — which eventually subsided. It was only in June, eight months after the accident, that doctors noticed the fracture finally started to mend.
While Kelsey lay in her hospital bed that first night, Chris McCabe and her daughter, Amanda, began to brainstorm ways that they could help support Kelsey.
“We kept thinking, ‘What can we do?’” McCabe said.
It was the beginning of the community effort to support Kelsey: “Little But Strong.”
McCabe and Amanda soon ordered and distributed pink bracelets in Kelsey’s honor at Channahon Junior High School with the words “Little But Strong,” inscribed on them to remind students of Kelsey’s struggle.
There was no set price for the bracelets; students simply donated whatever they could to help fund Kelsey’s costly medical recovery.
Amanda’s older sister, Samantha, also distributed the bracelets at Minooka High School.
News of the “Little But Strong” campaign quickly spread, and the pink bracelets began showing up in surrounding schools, including Plainfield North High School, where Nancy is a Spanish teacher, and Lincoln-Way East High School, where Kelsey’s step-sister, Celia Deckelman, attends.
“I had people emailing me from all over, asking for bracelets,” McCabe said. “It was neat to know that people were aware and thinking of her and wanted to do whatever they could to help.”
Channahon and Minooka schools, and even Kelsey’s previous school, St. Catherine in Oak Lawn, began conducting “Pink Out Days,” which called on students to wear pink in support of Kelsey. Some students even had portions of their hair dyed pink as local hair salons in Minooka and Channahon took up her cause.
Channahon police officers also pitched in, holding a “Police Brotherhood” fundraiser in honor of Kelsey, whose stepfather, Steve Deckelman, serves as a police officer with the Will County Sheriff’s Department.
And when Kelsey finally arrived back home from the hospital, she was greeted by more than 100 friends, family members, neighbors and total strangers who assembled on the front lawn of her home to welcome her back. A large wooden heart — carved by a family friend and colored pink, of course — was inscribed with dozens of supportive messages from well-wishers.
As Nancy noted the community support, she recalls her childhood, growing up in a close-knit Irish Catholic neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where people took care of each other during difficult and trying times. Nancy is glad to see that same feeling in Minooka and Channahon.
“The support was amazing, and we cannot thank everyone enough,” Nancy said. “We are truly blessed to live in a community that cares so much for one another. It was essential in helping all of us with the healing process.”
In December, Kelsey was able to return to Channahon Junior High School, initially for half-days and eventually full time in the spring.
To this day, she still suffers from headaches, and sometimes the pain is unbearable, Nancy said.
Kelsey, now 14, also suffers from short-term memory loss. Overall, learning is more difficult for her since the accident, Nancy added.
“That brings a lot of frustration and a little bit of anger on her part,” Nancy said. “School work had come easy to her — she was a straight-A student.”
Doctors have sutured the wound on Kelsey’s forehead, but a visible scar remains.
“Definitely, every time she looks in the mirror and sees her face, it will be there,” Nancy said. “It’s a constant reminder.”
This summer, Kelsey joined the Pom Squad at Minooka High School, and has been gearing up for her freshman year. She’s had to limit her classes, but Kelsey isn’t letting the effects of the accident limit her love for dance.
Life has changed drastically and permanently for Kelsey Little, but also for her family.
“I’ve become more protective of her. I don’t let her out of my sight,” Nancy said. “I’ve become overprotective of her — so has the rest of the family, my husband and her brother, too.”
“She may seem like a different person on the outside, but on the inside, she’s still the same loving and sweet girl,” Nancy said. “She is a miracle. She is still alive, and I’ll take that.”