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It was a phone call on July 20, 2010 that brought Luciana McGuire to her knees. “My girlfriend called me to tell me there was an accident – my daughter Ariana “Ari” (age seven at the time) had been rushed to Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital after being accidentally shot in the head – between the bridge of her nose and right eye – with a metal arrow. Ariana was at my friend’s house for a play date. My friend’s son was playing with his father’s hunting bow and arrow, and when he shot the arrow, Ari unknowingly walked into its path.”

Mrs. McGuire and her husband, Mitchell rushed to the hospital, where Mrs. McGuire says she spent many days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) sobbing uncontrollably and on her knees in prayer. She would talk to Ari and tell her it was going to be alright. Her husband, she says, would keep watch on the monitors and make sure Ari’s vital signs were in order,” says Mrs. McGuire.

“I spent many nights on my knees crying and praying. I prayed for my daughter’s life,” says Mrs. McGuire. Doctors told us they weren’t sure if “Ari” would make it through the night. Ari was in a coma. She suffered a stroke (due to arteries severed by the arrow’s impact). Doctors had to remove Ariana’s skull because her brain was so swollen,” says Mrs. McGuire.

“There wasn’t much that could be done from a surgical standpoint in trauma because the damage had already occurred,” says Jennifer Owensby, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Medical Director of the PICU and Pediatric Transport at Bristol Myers Squib Children’s Hospital.

Doctors administered a series of tests, including angiograms, so they could observe the level of blood moving through Ariana’s arteries. An angioplasty was performed to improve blood flow, along with a craniotomy to temporarily remove a portion of Ariana’s skull to help reduce the swelling in her brain. Once the swelling was reduced, a shunt was placed in her brain to help drain fluid. In total there were eight surgeries.

It took nearly three weeks for Ariana to wake up from a coma. A hopeful sign, but she was still unresponsive. Ariana spent six weeks at Robert Wood Johnson and was admitted to PSE&G Children’s Specialized Hospital on September 3, 2010.

“We were so scared to leave the hospital for rehab. We couldn’t understand why they were sending us for therapy when our daughter was in a vegetative state,” explains Mrs. McGuire. “Ari had a feeding tube, a “trach” (tracheostomy), she couldn’t breathe on her own, she couldn’t even hold her head by herself. She couldn’t do anything.”

“The move to PSE&G Children’s Specialized was literally a roll down the hallway and to the second floor. When we arrived it was the Friday before the Labor Day holiday. We were also nervous about the timing because many places would have a bare bones staff and slow down for the holiday, but not Children’s Specialized,” says Mrs. McGuire. “The entire team assigned to Ari was there to greet us. They measured Ari for a wheel chair and conducted the required evaluations. The next day she had her wheel chair and whatever she needed to get started on the road to recovery.”

Ariana began her physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions on Labor Day 2010. She has been working hard ever since.

Krishan Yalamanchi, M.D., Director of Brain Injury for Children’s Specialized Hospital says Ariana arrived at the hospital with many issues. “She was unable to speak, could not swallow and had significant weakness in her neck and right side. Today Ariana is doing significantly better.

The initial goal was to help Ariana regain basic life skills such as eating, walking and talking, and cognitive abilities, including motor skills, memory and visual and spatial processing. Mrs. McGuire added another goal – to have Ariana home for the Christmas holiday. Imagine the family’s delight when they were told Ariana would be ready to return home to Bridgewater, N.J. on Nov. 22, 2010 – 109 days after Ariana’s accident -- just in time for Thanksgiving.

“When we started, I thought, ‘How are we ever going to get her home, my daughter can’t move. On Nov. 22 she walked out. That was the most amazing thing. We went home before the holidays and she walked out of here,” says Mrs. McGuire.

In the first year, being home consisted of a full-time schedule of outpatient therapy at Children’s Specialized Hospital, including occupational, physical, speech and recreational therapies and therapy in the hospital’s Cognitive Rehabilitation program. Ariana’s right side was severely impacted by her traumatic injury and stroke, says Mrs. McGuire.

Ariana could walk with a partial brace on her right leg. Because of her physical limitations, Ariana will never return to her favorite sport of gymnastics, but she did return to the soccer field in April 2013, as a member of the Wild Cats, part of the Bridgewater Recreation Soccer program.

Ariana’s experiences have turned her into an advocate for helping other children who have experienced traumatic injuries and medical obstacles.

In July 2011, Ariana travelled to Washington, D.C. for Family Advocacy Day with the President and CEO of Children’s Specialized Hospital Amy Mansue. Ariana met with several lawmakers and was the only child from New Jersey, and one of 31 children nationwide to join the National Association of Children’s Hospitals in its appeal to federal lawmakers to retain funding for the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education payment program.

Ariana was also named as the ambassador for New Jersey by the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in January 2012.

“If it wasn’t for Children’s Specialized Hospital, we probably wouldn’t be here today,” Ariana pushes herself, but I know that she pushes herself because of the type of people working with her at Children’s Specialized Hospital,” adds Mrs. McGuire.

Mrs, McGuire also discovered a calling of her own while at Children’s Specialized Hospital – helping other families. Last year she joined the hospital’s staff part time as a member of the Family Faculty network to assist other families with coping with the plight of their children’s severe medical conditions.

“I don’t know how we would have made it without Children’s Specialized,” says Mrs. McGuire. I want to be there for other families, to let them know that regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, Children’s Specialized is there every step of the way.”