Karina Quezada is a vibrant, energetic first grade student, who in her short life has encountered and beat tremendous odds. Less than a year ago, Karina was diagnosed with encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.
While recovering as a patient at the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital she won over the hearts of the staff and patients with her bright smile and kind nature. For her courageous recovery, the staff at Warm Springs will induct Karina into the Warm Springs Wall of Fame on Wednesday, March 15.
What began as a simple cold with a cough and sore throat quickly turned into something more serious and life-threatening. As the symptoms began to worsen other more frightening symptoms began to appear. Karina began to periodically lose sensation in her left leg. One morning Karina couldn’t get up at all, she had lost complete feeling in her left leg and it was now starting to affect other parts of her body. Art and Letty Quezada immediately rushed their daughter to the emergency room, but doctors couldn’t pinpoint a specific diagnosis for Karina’s symptoms.
Several days and several physicians later, it was determined that Karina had encephalitis and it was progressively getting worse. Her little body was now stiff, preventing her from sitting, standing or walking. She was also suffering from convulsions and had lost the ability to speak. Doctors explained to Karina’s parents that if she somehow managed to survive the next 48 hours, she would have lifelong effects that included life in a vegetative state. In complete disbelief, Karina’s parents prayed that their daughter would survive this horrible illness that was attacking her body.
This would prove to be only one of a few critical setbacks that Karina would overcome in the next few months.
After her condition was stabilized in an El Paso hospital, it was determined that Karina would begin therapy. It was still unknown how much function Karina would regain but on Valentine’s Day, Karina was transferred to the San Antonio Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital.
“Karina came to us unable to do anything, she was completely dependent on others and medical equipment for her daily functions” to include breathing and feeding, said Ellen I. Leonard, M.D., director of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at the San Antonio Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital.
Twice during her stay at Warm Springs, Karina was transferred to an acute care hospital to address serious medical issues that had surfaced. Once her physicians gave her the green light to resume therapy she was transferred back to Warm Springs. Despite all the setbacks, she remained determined to defeat all odds.
“She is very independent and wants to do things on her own, I knew she would recover well,” said Karina’s father, Art Quezada.
Karina amazed doctors, therapists and nurses with her progression.
“Once she went home we ordered a wheelchair for her, by the time the wheelchair was in she was walking with assistance,” said Dr. Leonard.
It was this persistence and her positive attitude that touched and inspired all around her.
Former patient, James Hoke affectionately remembers his “trach buddy”. Hoke met Karina while recovering from injuries he sustained during his tour of duty in Iraq that included 22 facial fractures and broken bones throughout his body.
“Despite all the metal that was coming out of my body, Karina offered me a smile on a daily basis. She gave me hope that my daughter’s might look at me with that same smile in spite of my physical appearance,” said Hoke.
Hoke assisted and encouraged Karina through some of the difficult times during her recovery,
“at first Karina was having trouble adjusting to her trach, so I demonstrated a few techniques that helped me.”
“Karina brought joy, encouragement and hope to the lives of so many despite her disabilities,” said Carmen Vrzal, COTA, therapist for the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital. “It was common to see Karina racing down the hall to visit one of her friends in need.”
Through the therapy and nursing care Karina received at Warm Springs, she was able to return home and regain most function, but Karina’s recovery will continue in the months and years to come.
“Dr. Leonard said the best therapy for Karina was to be home with her sister and she was right,” said Letty Quezada. “Being around her little sister has brought her great joy and comfort.”
Her younger sister, five-year-old Karomie, is referred to as Karina’s “nurse”, watching out for her older sister and tending too many of her needs.
Because of her great attitude and the wonderful family support, today Karina enjoys riding her horse “Flecha”, drawing and playing with her dog.
“Karina is destined for greater things,” said Dr. Leonard.
Warm Springs Rehabilitation Foundation, Inc. opened its first hospital near mineral-rich springs in Ottine, Texas more than 75 years. As the first rehabilitation hospital in the State of Texas, Warm Springs offered rehabilitation to children and young adults afflicted with polio. Today, Warm Springs, a mission-focused, not-for-profit healthcare organization, continues to care for patients with disabilities, some with long-term issues, regardless of their ability to pay. Both inpatient and outpatient services include occupational, physical, speech and respiratory therapies. Patients with amputations, life-threatening wounds, brain injury, pain management issues, orthopedic, pulmonary, spinal cord injuries and strokes benefit from rehabilitation programs offered by Warm Springs.