Traumatic Brain Injury: Khalia's Story

Pediatric Care in Florida
Khalia balancing on an platform

Patient Story Highlights

  • Fort Myers High School cheerleader Khalia recovers from a traumatic brain injury after a car accident, with support from her family and the Johns Hopkins All Children's Outpatient Care team.
  • Her care includes physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions, with the goal of walking across the stage at her high school graduation.
  • Khalia's determination and hard work, combined with the multidisciplinary team's collaborative care, contribute to her progress and functional independence.
Khalia balancing on an platform
Khalia receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy at the hospital's Outpatient Care Center in Fort Myers.

For a Fort Myers High School cheerleader, recovery and rehabilitation from a bad car accident is a family affair.

Her mom, Shawnda, often skips lunch to visit her physical, occupational or speech therapy sessions. Her dad, Reginald, adjusted his schedule as a rebar fabricator so he works a 3 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift so he can care for Khalia in the afternoons. Her grandmother, Tina, often has the morning shift, bringing Khalia to rehabilitation or other appointments.

But the family caring for Khalia extends beyond her immediate relatives. Shawnda works as a patient service representative supervisor at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Care, Fort Myers, where the team has pitched in to care for Khalia.

“Fort Myers is just like one big family,” says Shawnda, who has worked for the hospital in Fort Myers for nearly 14 years. “We all know everybody, so this is almost as heartbreaking for them as it was for me. This is something they want just as much as me — to see Khalia achieve the goals that she's trying to achieve.”

Khalia’s current goal: To walk across the stage at her high school graduation Saturday night.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Khalia was driving home on April 18 after spending time with friends. A motorcyclist hit her car, causing it to spin and land in a ditch in an unincorporated community called Buckingham between Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. A crash report indicated the motorcyclist had blood-alcohol content well above the limit where a driver is considered legally impaired.

Khalia was taken to Gulf Coast Medical Center where she was treated for a traumatic brain injury, which has affected her speech, her ability to walk, even her ability to feed herself.

After the initial treatment in the trauma center, Khalia has been treated by a variety of Johns Hopkins All Children’s specialists.

Theodore Spinks, M.D., who is chief of neurosurgery a Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida in collaboration with Johns Hopkins All Children’s, saw Khalia at the outpatient clinic and reviewed her treatment. Thomas Geller, M.D., chief of the pediatric neurology division, has cared for her at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Care, North PortSarah Irani, M.D., a sports medicine specialist, evaluated her concussion.

But the bulk of Khalia’s care has been therapy. They try to get her on the schedule each day for an hour of physical therapy, an hour of occupational therapy and 30 minutes of speech therapy.

“As soon as I heard of her accident and urgent rehabilitation needs, I made accommodations in my schedule and collaborated with our team to get her in as soon as possible,” says Stephanie Listowski Wong, P.T., D.P.T., a physical therapist who works with Khalia at the Fort Myers location. “The team worked together seamlessly to coordinate physical, occupational and speech therapy needs, and start intensive frequency of her therapies to align with optimal outcomes and her personal goals to regain her functional independence as soon as possible. 

“Functional neurologic movement disorders are complex, and it is imperative that all disciplines involved coordinate care plans, collaborate on treatment goals, and have an understanding about how this condition affects a person and their caregivers as a whole.” 

"We all know everybody, so this is almost as heartbreaking for them as it was for me. This is something they want just as much as me — to see Khalia achieve the goals that she's trying to achieve."

Shawnda, Khalia's mother

Working Hard

Shawnda says Khalia has experienced challenges in a variety of areas, but the therapy sessions have helped immensely.

Initially, Khalia couldn’t feed herself, but occupational therapist Jyoti Parkhi, OTR/L, showed her some techniques and soon she regained some independence.

“It just makes you want to cry because it's like, Oh, my God, she is able to feed herself again and that was huge for her,” Shawnda says.

Khalia is putting in the work. She is making progress with speech therapist Emily Larson, M.S., CCC-SLP.

She doesn’t clear big hurdles every day, but many days she clears small ones.

“I’m overjoyed,” Shawnda says. “It’s so hard to put into words. I can breathe again because I know she’s going to be OK.”

Pushing to the Goal

Walking the stage at graduation involves many challenges for Khalia. Her injury makes her sensitive to noise and light. She is using a head lamp to coordinate her head and eye movements, which are critical to balance. She practices stepping over objects and simulates climbing stairs.

Each day her walking endurance gets better, the quality of her gait improves and she gets closer to the goal.

“The incredible gains she has made are a true testament to what is possible when you are determined to regain your independence and are able to receive therapy at an intensive frequency after a newly acquired injury,” says Wong, who has worked for the hospital for six years and previously treated Khalia for cheerleading injuries. “She has worked so hard in her high school career, and actually recently won one of the biggest leadership awards at her high school awards ceremony, and they honored her for her leadership in cheerleading, the community, and her positive attitude and infectious smile.”

Khalia has many people rooting for her. They all want to see her reach her goal.

One step at a time …

Johns Hopkins All Children's Outpatient Care, Fort Myers

When your child needs care, Johns Hopkins All Children’s pediatric specialists, nurses, therapists and staff provide some of our most frequently needed medical, laboratory and therapeutic services at our Outpatient Care Center in Fort Myers, Florida.