D’Ayshunah Kind’s high school graduation is an accomplishment that goes beyond GPAs, scholarships and big future plans.
And while the coronavirus pandemic has altered traditional graduation ceremonies, that can’t take away what this amazing young woman has achieved after suffering an anoxic brain injury in middle school that took away – temporarily — her ability to walk and talk. Danah, as she’s known to family and friends, is now a proud graduate of Akron’s Buchtel High School Class of 2020 with a GPA of 3.4.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell what she’s been through,” said her mother, Lamia Singfield.
Danah had been diagnosed with asthma and had a few hospital stays but otherwise was a healthy and active child. In November 2012, she had a severe asthma attack that put her into cardiac arrest. Lamia was at work, having just started a new job, so her husband, Andre, quickly responded and drove Danah to Akron Children’s emergency department, which was fortunately just a 10-minute drive from their Akron home. She stopped breathing en route.
“It was traumatic,” recalled Lamia. “She was lifeless and a nurse just took her. Seven minutes had passed by, she was gone for 11 minutes and it took 11 minutes to resuscitate her. By the time I got there she was going to the PICU.”
Lamia was hopeful that this hospital stay would be like the others and that Danah would be walking out the door soon. But as she learned more about the severity of the situation, she could see how critical her daughter was.
“By the 3rd day it set in that we’re not going home,” Lamia said.
Pediatric neurologist Dr. Bruce Cohen was among the doctors who cared for Danah. The odds of a recovery were slim, he said, and he was also concerned about the rigidity of her body due to dystonia, which contorted her into “backwards C,” he said.
“The outcome in most of these situations is these kids never develop the ability to walk or talk again,” he said. “But I have seen children make full recoveries and I couldn’t explain why some recover and others don’t, but I remember her mother saying she had faith, and I said I would join her in that.”
Dr. Cohen said he worked with his colleague Dr. Kathryn Mosher, director of the Neuromuscular Clinic, on how to approach Danah’s care. Dr. Mosher identified a medication, tetrabenazine, that could help, and it successfully loosened Danah’s tone so that she could begin physical therapy. The two doctors are still involved in her care today.
“She’s made remarkable progress,” Dr. Cohen said.
“She was in the hospital 8 months: 3 months in the PICU, 5 in 7100,” Lamia said. “Dr. Sarah Freibert (director of Pediatric Palliative Care) came to me one and day said, ‘Nobody can tell you what the brain can do. The brain can always reheal itself.’ Dr. Cohen said the same thing — all we could do is wait and see. Sure enough, by the time we left the hospital she was regaining her walking, and a year after that she walked on her own.”
Physical therapist Kate Patton worked closely with Danah for more than 5 years and saw how she persevered through months of intensive therapy for 3 to 6 hours a day.
“Danah wrestled with her balance while she made her legs take steps forward using a walker,” said Kate, who also praised Lamia for standing by her daughter. “Not satisfied with this incredible and unexpected recovery, Danae and Lamia fearlessly set their goal to walk without a walker. When others doubted Danae’s potential, Lamia continually presented opportunities for Danah to excel. Against all odds, Danah returned to school walking independently.”
Kate said she was thrilled when Danah joined a soccer team and was able to play amongst her peers. She also participated in Dance Unlimited, the hospital’s dance troupe for children with a variety of diagnoses.
So what’s next for this new grad? Danah, who will be 18 on June 3, said she would like to be a nurse. Lamia said they are going to pursue training for her to become a nurse’s aide, and she may explore other nursing programs in the future. She’s also hoping to launch a career in modeling soon.
Lamia said her daughter’s road to graduation was not without its bumps.
“I can’t say things have been easy,” she said. “Being around people that knew her before her brain injury really helped. All her friends had seen her progression and they encouraged her.”
Kate said she is so happy to see her former patient succeed.
“Danae’s recovery is a miracle,” she said. “Her grit, hard-work, family support and survivor-will brought her to this amazing milestone…graduating high school. She inspires me!”
For an appointment with Akron Children’s Hospital’s Rehabilitative Services, call 330-543-8257.