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Heather CoronadoThe fog was heavy in the early morning hours. April Coronado was driving her two younger children home after a night in the emergency room, where they had gotten care for 13-year-old Heather’s acute respiratory infection. The family was tired and eager to get home.

Thick patches of fog turned the roadway white and made driving treacherous. The next thing April remembers is the car slamming up against a tree.

The driver-side airbag deployed, protecting April against serious injury. In the back, 16-year-old son Frankie broke his nose when he was thrown forward. But Heather, the front passenger, was critically hurt. The airbag never opened and her seatbelt slipped leaving her pinned beneath the front dashboard.

Heather was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital’s level 1 pediatric trauma unit. Doctors found broken bones in her skull, ear, and leg, plus internal organ damage. She needed several pints of transfused blood and monitoring for brain trauma. Her orthopedist put a rod and two pins in her leg.  Because of injury to her spleen, she was on bedrest for several days.

When Heather finally awoke and realized her leg was in traction, she cried about missing softball tryouts. She also worried about competing in an upcoming pageant.

Six days later, Heather was moved from pediatric ICU to the pediatric unit. Staff gave her stuffed animals, games, and her favorite movies. She especially loved visits from the therapy dog, a tiny Chihuahua.

With help from a physical therapist, Heather rehabilitated quickly.

“It was difficult at times,” she says. “I had to learn how to walk again and how to go upstairs. She helped me through it and told me I could do it. I just kept practicing and getting better, and it got easier.”

Heather missed two months of school while she healed. But she was determined to compete in the pageant—without a walker or wheelchair. When the day came, even hearing loss, flat shoes, and a limp could not stop her. She placed third out of 16 contestants.

April is so grateful for the team at Tampa General. “I could not have asked for a better group of doctors. They were constantly in and out of her room; we never had to hunt for somebody,” she says. “It’s the best experience I’ve had in a hospital, ever. Tampa General is just an awesome hospital.”

Heather, too, has only kind words for Tampa General.

“I loved them. My ICU nurses Mary and Sarah always kept me smiling,” she says. “Everyone was so nice to me.”

Every time she goes back for a checkup, Heather visits the nurses who helped her. She is doing so well that she is thinking about playing softball again in the fall. And each day she cuddles with one happy reminder of her time at Tampa General: a new pet Chihuahua.

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