Posted by Ralph | 5:27 PM

Summerville -- A tear slid down Kayla Beczynski's cheek as the words passed her trembling lips.
"I'm sorry." Her voice thin, below a whisper.

Her mother stroked Kayla's hand. "Oh, baby, no," Carrie Rhymer comforted. "Honey, you don't have anything to be sorry about."

Kayla blinked as more tears trickled onto her pale skin. Try as she might, she could not raise a hand to wipe them away.

At age 15, Kayla is a prisoner in her body, unable to move or breathe on her own. A former gymnast and cheerleader, she now spends her days tethered to a bed or a wheelchair, her limbs motionless.

In May, a teenager's trust and sense of adventure led her to join a neighbor for a ride in the woods on an all-terrain vehicle. The outing ended in a shuddering crash that left Kayla paralyzed from the neck down.

Rhymer, a single mom, left her job at a credit union to care for her only child. Her best friend, nurse Colleen Hodge, moved in to help. They spend their days working with Kayla and researching doctors and treatments that might help her regain use of her limbs.

Photo by Alan Hawes
The Post and Courier
Kayla Beczynski shares a smile with her mother.

Kayla's family refuses to believe her paralysis is permanent -- she beat the odds once by surviving the wreck; she can do it again.

Kayla's arctic blue eyes shimmered as she gazed at the street where she once played. A ventilator tube tugging at her throat, she struggled to mouth the words to voice her conviction.

"I'm going to walk again."
A terrible crash

The crash occurred in a sliver of time on a warm spring evening. Rhymer had left Kayla at their Chipping Sparrow Drive home while she dashed to Home Depot for landscaping supplies. The trip took 30 minutes.

While she was away, next-door neighbor Katrina Elsworth, 32, invited Kayla for a ride on an ATV. Why not, Kayla thought. It sounded like fun. So they climbed aboard the four-wheeler and Elsworth drove to a wooded area near the Sawmill Branch Trail.
They didn't wear helmets or protective gear.

Witnesses later would tell police the ATV was going "way too fast" as Elsworth approached a muddy spot along the trail where she'd gotten stuck in the past. As she swerved to avoid the patch, the 15-foot embankment gave way. The ATV flipped in the air, tossing the riders as it tumbled into the canal, coming to rest in a foot of water.

Police found Elsworth kneeling over Kayla's motionless body. The impact had broken Kayla's neck in two places and damaged an artery carrying blood to her brain. She turned blue as blood seeped from her mouth and nose.

Rhymer was at the store when Elsworth called from Kayla's cell phone: There's been an accident, Elsworth said. Go to Summerville Medical Center.
Rhymer raced right over, but no one would tell her what happened. When she finally persuaded hospital workers to let her see her daughter, she found two dozen doctors and nurses working feverishly on Kayla.
Rhymer was 19 when she gave birth to Kayla. They were like best friends. Now, she almost didn't recognize her bruised and bloodied child.
"I felt like someone had reached in and torn my heart out," Rhymer said.

Carrie Rhymer consoles her 15-year-old daughter, Kayla Beczynski, as Rhymer talks about the day in May that Kayla was left paralyzed after being thrown from a fast-moving ATV that crashed in a wooded area near the Sawmill Branch Trail in Summerville.

Beating the odds

As police questioned Elsworth about the wreck, an ambulance whisked Kayla to Medical University Hospital's pediatric trauma center.
Doctors told Rhymer that Kayla's body had shut down while paramedics were working on her and again in the emergency room -- in essence, she had died twice. Though medics revived her, they weren't hopeful. One doctor told the family they had only a few hours left to say their goodbyes.

Anne Hewitt, Kayla's grandmother, turned to the doctor and shook her head. "You don't get the last word on that."

Dozens of family members and friends kept vigil in the packed hospital waiting room. They hugged and prayed when Kayla made it through that night. Then another. And another after that.

They celebrated again after a successful operation to fuse her spine. Still, doctors cautioned them against expecting too much. They said Kayla probably would never be able to breathe or eat on her own. Brain damage also was likely. Walking? Unimaginable.

Kayla spent six weeks in the Charleston hospital as arrangements were made for specialized treatment at Shepherd Center, a catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta.

As they prepared for the journey, police moved in and arrested Elsworth on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Their investigation revealed she had been driving too fast on an ATV built for one rider. Tests also showed she had marijuana and prescription drugs in her system, according to an arrest affidavit.
Elsworth posted bail and went home the same day. Her husband said she could not be reached for this story.

The long road back

Kayla spent six weeks at Shepherd Center, emerging from a jumbled haze and learning how to live in an entirely different way. At first, she communicated by blinking her eyes. Then, slowly, words came. She talked, joked, recalled details from the crash and her life. Fears that she had suffered brain damage gradually diminished.
But her mother grew frustrated with the lack of physical therapy Kayla was receiving. The center seemed focused on teaching Kayla to live as a quadriplegic, not on helping her overcome her disability.

By the time they left the center in mid-August, Rhymer felt they had accomplished little.
Kayla and her family returned to Summerville and their two-story home beside the Elsworths' house.

Rhymer and her relatives spoke out in favor of legislation to better protect children from the dangers of ATV riding. They urged adults to be more responsible, as well, but avoided mentioning Katrina Elsworth by name. As much as possible, they kept their distance from her, not wanting to stoke the tension that had settled like an invisible wall between the two families.

Photo by Alan Hawes
The Post and Courier

Carrie Rhymer walks alongside her daughter, Kayla Beczynski, outside their home in Summerville on Monday. Rhymer and her boyfriend, Sebastian Spence, watch Kayla practice maneuvering her mouthcontrolled wheelchair in the cul-de-sac on their street.

A large "Welcome Home" banner greeted Kayla when she arrived. Friends soon filled the house, just like old times. Spunky, athletic, always ready with a joke -- Kayla had been a people-magnet her whole life. The old Kayla was still present in photos all over the house. Gazing out over a lake. Taking a break from roller skating. Sporting her favorite hip-hop hat and flashing a peace sign.

With her playful smile, hot pink fingernails and sandy hair pulled back in a barrette, Kayla still looks every bit the teenager. But appearances don't tell the whole story.
She no longer can scamper to her bedroom on the second floor. She splits her time between a hospital bed in the middle of the family's living room and a wheelchair she's learning to operate with her mouth. She requires around-the-clock nursing care. Without a handicapped-accessible vehicle, she needs an ambulance to make it to doctors' appointments.

"I get sad sometimes because I can't do things like I used to," Kayla said. When those times come, she watches television, reads or finds some other distraction to push the dark thoughts away. She has to stay focused, positive.

"She's lost a lot," her mother said. "But, you know, I think things happen for a reason, and I think things happen to people who can handle them."
Challenges remain

Kayla gritted her teeth as a canvas sling grabbed hold of her frail body and lifted it from a narrow bed with polka dot sheets.
Nurse Hodge cradled Kayla's head and held the tubes snaking from her throat as her mother worked the winch lowering her into a wheelchair. Her feet, clad in black Crocs, dangled from the sling. The ventilator controlling her breathing beeped insistently from the corner of the bed.

"Almost there, Kay," her mom soothed. "I've got you, baby."
Beads of perspiration lining her forehead, Rhymer straddled the chair and slid Kayla into an upright position. Hodge adjusted the brace holding Kayla's head in place as Rhymer wrapped towels around her daughter's elbows to prevent sores. Kayla offered a weak smile as they finished, the rhythmic, metallic hiss of the ventilator filling the room.
It's a routine they perform a few times every day.
Kayla's uncle Chris often stops by to help lift her from the bed. Otherwise, it's up to Rhymer and Hodge.

The pair have been busy researching treatments and programs to help with her recovery. They arranged for a physical therapist, who helped Kayla sit up in bed for the first time with assistance. They've also looked into a program in Miami that uses electrodes to try to reconnect the brain with paralyzed muscles. On Oct. 3, they have a meeting in Greenville to see if they can get Kayla into a Shriners hospital in Pennsylvania for advanced therapy.

They cling to stories of hope and the progress they see. Kayla's aunt, Kirsty Murray, met a woman on an online forum who fought her way back from paralysis and gave birth to three children. Maybe Kayla can do the same, they reason, because she already has come further than doctors expected. She is eating solid food again, regaining her voice, building strength in her lungs.

Fundraisers and benefits have helped support the family while insurance money has helped defray the cost of her medical care. They are grateful for the help and people's prayers. There's not much money for extras, but Rhymer doesn't care.

"We know this isn't a quick fix," she said. "As long as we have a roof over our heads and she's getting better, I don't care about anything else."

A simple wish

Rhymer and her mother stood at the foot of the driveway, cheering as Kayla maneuvered her wheelchair around the cul-de-sac by manipulating a special tube with her mouth. She moved tentatively at first, jerking forward and gliding in short bursts. Then she got the hang of it, spinning the chair in a circle for a small victory lap.
"She is still so full of life," her grandmother said.

Kayla already is thinking ahead to her first steps. She sees herself walking down the road, heading to Burger King and having lunch with her friends.

S0urce: Glenn Smith - Courier and Post

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