Original Article By YVETTE C. HAMMETT (email@example.com)
How many times have you stuck your tongue out and thought of it as an amazing feat? Or, lifted your arms in the air and gasped at the wonder of it?
For a young woman brutally attacked at the Bloomingdale Public Library in 2008, these small steps are huge. They are accomplishments some doctors never expected for the brain-damaged 20-year-old unable to care for herself.
They are happening, though. Not without hard work from her and her therapists and as of December, a hyperbaric chamber that pumps pure oxygen to her brain.
The young woman’s mother learned about the Hyperbaric Center for Children shortly after her daughter was attacked, raped and left for dead outside the library. But the girl was in no shape to travel or sit in a chamber.
“I kept the e-mail they sent me for over a year,” her mother said.
The young woman and her family are not being identified because of the nature of her attack.
Mark Fowler, who runs the center from his home, offered the young woman treatments six days a week, when she was able to get there, for two hours each session. She had 33 sessions.
But with so many other therapy appointments, getting from the Riverview area to St. Petersburg daily got more and more difficult, prompting the family to lease a hyperbaric chamber, which Fowler helped them install.
“She gets stronger every day,” her mother said. “After the chamber, she has a lot more energy, which helps her to do better in all of her therapy. It’s helping her brain get healthier and stronger.”
Hyperbaric chamber treatment for brain injuries is being used by the military, but is still not accepted by all physicians, Fowler said.
“But I can tell you, we’re not selling snake oil and we wouldn’t be doing this as a nonprofit if it didn’t work.” Children from across the country and the world come to his home, where there are four chambers operated…
“There are billions of brain cells in a sleeping state that can be woken up by oxygen,” Fowler said. “It stimulates growth of new blood vessels and arteries.
“The brain damage she has, there are a lot of brain cells that are sleeping and we are waking them up. Things are happening.”
Fowler said he would not be surprised to see the young woman walk again one day.
Her family is hoping an upcoming fundraiser in Ruskin will raise the needed cash to purchase a chamber for her, at a cost of about $25,000.
In addition to the chamber, the young woman is also undergoing numerous other types of therapy for sight, her speech, her muscles and more, including acupuncture and a chiropractor.
“She can say her five vowel sounds now,” her mother said. “Her speech therapist told her to make an oooo sound so she can blow a kiss to Tim Tebow,” her mom said, laughing. The young woman is a big fan of the former University of Florida quarterback. Before her attack, she had planned to attend UF.
And just the other day, nursing assistant Ashley Waring, saw the 20-year-old stick her tongue completely out.
“Her tongue came out almost like you would normally try to stick your tongue out,” Waring said. “Before, she couldn’t move her tongue past her teeth. It was pretty exciting to see that.”
The young woman is also able to eat some soft foods now, where she was unable to eat any before.
Despite the small triumphs, there is pain below the surface, her mother said.
The young woman has never heard the full story of her attack – how she was attacked when she went at night to return books to the library. Kendrick Morris, 17, of Clair-Mel City has been charged in the attack.
But she knows life has changed drastically.
Morris remains in jail awaiting two trials. The trial in which he is accused of raping a day care worker near his home is set for Aug.30. The trial in which he is accused of attacking the teen at the library is set for Sept. 27.
“Sometimes, when nobody is around, she is sad for a few moments, emotional,” her mother said. She’s not jealous that all her friends went off to college, her mom said, but guesses her daughter mourns for the normal times past.
Occasionally, tears roll down her cheeks.
“We try to keep her busy and keep all positive people around her,” her mother said. “We make sure she has a good time all day.”
HYPERBARIC CENTER FOR CHILDREN
Children suffering from cerebral palsy, autism, shaken baby syndrome and other special needs come for treatments at the center in St. Petersburg.
Costs for chamber treatments through private physicians or hospitals range from $200 to $3,500 per visit, according to center director Mark Fowler. Treatments at the center are free.
The center treats 70 to 90 children per day. For now, there are four chambers set up in Fowler’s home, but plans are in the works to build a permanent facility that would include other types of therapy and diagnostic services and equipment. To learn more about the center, visit www.chamberofhope.org.