Laurel Schaul photo

Laurel Schaul is an active 11-year-old girl. She loves playing soccer, basketball, and volleyball. She participates in competitive dance and a youth cheerleading squad. Sitting still isn’t in her top 10 list of favorite things to do.

So, when a September 2016 accident in the basement of her family’s Springville, Iowa, home threatened to leave her unable to walk, she was scared. And so were her parents.

“You almost think it’s a bad dream, that you’ll wake up and it will all be different,” says Annette Schaul, Laurel’s mom. “But then you realize it’s not a dream–it’s real.”

Laurel had developed a spinal epidural hematoma–a buildup of blood in her upper back that was compressing the spinal cord–after falling off a yoga ball while playing with friends. Doctors at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital told Laurel’s parents she had a 10 to 15 percent chance of walking again.

“The thing with spinal cord injury is that time is of the essence,” says Kingsley Abode-Iyamah, MD, the chief neurosurgery resident who repaired Laurel’s injury. “If there is a mass that can be decompressed, you need to do that as soon as possible.”

Laurel’s injury wasn’t immediately obvious to her or to her family. She fell in the middle of the afternoon, but the pain didn’t get serious until more than two hours later. That’s when she sent a friend to get her mom.

Annette took her daughter to the emergency room at a Cedar Rapids hospital. Laurel’s dad, Larry, met them there.

“They did a CT scan and an MRI at the hospital and didn’t like what they saw,” Larry says. “They referred us to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where a neurosurgery team would be waiting.”

Laurel says she could feel her legs, but she could no longer move them.

Laurel and her parents arrived at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital shortly after midnight. Within an hour, she was in surgery.

“If we didn’t operate on her right away, she would not have been able to walk again,” Abode-Iyamah says. “The clot was so big, it was compressing her spinal cord, and the cord was no longer functioning. It wasn’t getting any bigger, but it was really pressing down on her spinal cord.”

Abode-Iyamah calls Laurel’s recovery “amazing.”

Laurel regained her bladder function within a matter of days and was moving her legs less than a week after surgery. Nine days after surgery, Laurel walked out of the hospital on her own.

“It really was an amazing recovery,” Abode-Iyamah says. “Having a great staff and a team that can come together that quickly made the difference in whether Laurel would walk again. If we’d waited an hour, that outcome could have been different.”

Laurel’s parents agree.

“We are so blessed to have UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital right here,” Annette says. “Laurel would not be where she is now if it weren’t for them. You hear all these success stories, but when it’s your child, you know just how amazing it truly is.”

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