Hannah Knott smiles during a game of Go Fish with her parents.
As she looks over her cards during a game of Go Fish with her parents, Hannah Knott can't help but smile. When her request of a six from her mother Billie Heilesen results in having to pick out a new card from the pile, Hannah's smile still lights up the living room. While Hannah ultimately won the game, the outcome didn't mean too much. But for her family, seeing Hannah and her beaming smile, that means everything.
For a brief period of time, Hannah's family wondered if they were ever going to see that familiar smile again.
On March 22, Hannah, 6, and her older brother Jaxton, 9, were on their way to a friends house along Highway 10, about a mile south of the U.S. 6 interchange. According to Utah Highway Patrol reports, Hannah allegedly darted out into traffic in the path of a southbound vehicle and was hit in the middle of the lane. Hannah was life-flighted up to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City where she was diagnosed with a laundry list of bad injuries including a fractured skull, two broken clavicles, a fractured jaw, broken mandible, six broken ribs, broken fingers, among other injuries.
Watching Hannah laying in a hospital bed with tubes stuck in her body, Heilesen wasn't completely sure she would ever get to see Hannah's smile again.
"Not at all," Heilesen said while remembering the first few days in the hospital.
But over the next month, Hannah showed signs of significant progress. Despite having a trachea tube, Hannah communicated through the use of a card with phrases that helped her better communicate with doctors and her family about how she was feeling. And once she was able to get out of her bed, Hannah was moving all over the place, said her father David Knott.
"She was taking that wheelchair all up and down the hallway at the hospital every day," Knott said. "It was almost as if she acted like nothing ever happened to her in the first place."
What was originally expected to be a six-month stay at the hospital, Hannah was able to return home just over a month later on April 26.
"She is doing really good right now," Heilesen said. "It's been a little different than before the accident, but we're very excited to have her back home again."
While in the hospital she received cards from her first grade classmates at Creekview Elementary and heard about the special Hats ON for Hannah day that saw students from around the school district wear hats of all kinds to school in honor of her. For Hannah, being home means seeing friends and having fun again.
"It's awesome," Hannah said of returning home from the hospital. "I get to see and play with my friends a lot now." Hannah is able to move around unrestricted from the clutches of a cervical collar which she had removed just two weeks ago.
While being home has been a blessing for Hannah and her family, it's been a challenge to keep her from wanting to be the average six-year-old. Heilesen and Knott both say they constantly have to try and keep Hannah from doing things at 100 miles per hour as she did before the accident. Older brother Jaxton said he tries to keep a watchful eye over everything Hannah does to make sure she doesn't get hurt. He remembers seeing Hannah laying motionless after being hit by the car and wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"I always watch what she is doing now because I don't want to see her get hurt again," Jaxton explained. The sibling rivalry between Hannah and Jaxton is easily noticeable as they fight and argue over things. But while he may not be in a rush to say it, Jaxton's happy that Hannah is back at home again, Heilesen said.
While her broken bones have healed, Hannah has a noticeable scar from the trachea tube she had placed after the accident. Heilesen said doctors believe it will continue to heal and fade as time passes but Hannah will need at least one more minor surgery to scrape her throat.
However one injury which isn't as easily seen is what will be keeping Hannah and her family busy in trying to overcome.
The brain injuries Hannah sustained in the accident have already shown their effects and will require much work going forward. Heilesen said Hannah can be quick to get upset and tends to lash out in certain situations as a first resort. She is undergoing regular speech therapy sessions and continues to make regular visits to doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center. For the time being, Hannah can't do things such as jump on a trampoline, ride a bike, jump around or do anything that could jog her brain around. Those activities are replaced by memory games including Go Fish, Old Maid, Connect Four and similar games.
As someone who participated in gymnastics before the accident, Hannah is hoping that she might be able to get involved again once she is fully cleared for strenous physical activity.
Still, only time and Hannah's brain will tell when she is ready to resume life as she was, Heilesen said.
"As tramatic as her brain injury was, it's all up to Hannah's body to recover fully now," she said.
Watching Hannah bounce and catch a ball around the house, with her hair flying all over the place, Heilesen and Knott said they are amazed at her quick recovery. After seeing her go from laying in a hospital bed to moving everywhere in a wheelchair to now being the young, rambuncious girl nearly ready to grab life and run at a full pace again, Heilesen said seeing that familiar smile is the best part of having her back home again.
"It's just very comforting to hear her laugh and see her smile again," Heilesen said.