By Morgan Lang
The cool wind blew through Ava LaVoe’s hair as she sat on the bus, jamming out to Ariana Grande’s “They Don’t Know.”
The freshman was on her ride home after school on Sept. 14th, a Thursday afternoon.
“We were taking a shortcut,” Ava recalled, and the bus driver was speeding, as usual, because he was tired of being in traffic and wanted to get Ava and the four other students home faster.
He made a sharp turn and hit a boulder. The bus didn’t have any seatbelts, so Ava flew out of her seat, and her head and back smashed against the floor. Her head was pounding and she could feel her whole body go numb as she lay on the floor.
“Are you okay?” the bus driver shouted back to her.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Ava replied.
Even though Ava clearly wasn't fine, she didn't want to make the bus driver feel bad.
Ava knew something was wrong so she got off the bus at an earlier stop and called her mom. When her mom found her, Ava was laying on the ground. Her mom immediately took her to Bryn Mawr Hospital’s emergency room, where the doctor told her that she had a concussion and musculoskeletal injuries.
Ava was experiencing unbearable pain, along with pins and needles in her back. Her mom took her to two surgeons, along with many other doctors at numerous hospitals, where she underwent X-rays and several MRIs.
“I felt stressed and worried,” Ava said.
The doctors diagnosed her with several health issues.
One was a syrinx — a fluid-filled cavity in the spinal cord extending from her cervical spine down to the end of her lumbar spine.
The doctors also discovered an Arnold Chiari Type I Malformation at the base of her skull. Chiari is a rare condition that puts pressure on the spinal cord and can result in neurological damage that can cause numerous problems, including tingling, muscle weakness and respiratory dysfunction.
The doctors believe that Ava already had this problem before the bus accident, but no one knew about it and the crash made the condition worse.
As a result, Ava had brain and spinal surgery on Nov. 12th at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Ava had a craniotomy-laminectomy and the part of her brain sitting in the spinal canal was operated on. The goal was to minimize the size of the syrinx via the redirection of the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
After the operation, Ava spent six days in the intensive care unit at CHOP, where doctors put a drain in her head to remove the excess fluids.
She then was discharged to rest at home. Following that, she was able to start physical therapy and returned to school three weeks after the surgery.
Ava is now doing well, both mentally and physically. And while she does feel frustrated by what happened to her, her father, who is a pediatrician, said that Ava is “quite resilient.”
“She has maintained a positive attitude throughout this — never questioning why or feeling sorry for herself,”Dr. LaVoe said recently. “She has a mantra she lives by….’Never give up.’ ”
The night before her surgery, Ava told him, “Dad, I got this.”
“Looking back,” Dr. LaVoe said, “Despite my worries, fears and sleepless nights, she really did!”
Ava is happy to be back in school. It wasn’t just that she was excited to see her friends; she was also ready to get back to work.
Despite all of the challenges Ava has faced, she feels that this experience has made her into a stronger person.
“Although sometimes you may have accidents, you’ve got to keep going and pick your feet up, and you have to start believing in yourself you can do this,” Ava said.