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Fighting back from a 1% chance of survival

Breanna at graduation, one month before her accident

At first, Victoria Kozlowski didn’t realize how seriously her 17-year-old daughter, Breanna, had been injured. It was July 1, 2020, and her daughter’s friend had called while she was on her way home from work.

“Mrs. K., where are you? Breanna fell off a golf cart, and her ear is bleeding. You need to come now.”

It was a few minutes later when the friend called again that Victoria started to get scared.

“She said there was a lot of blood and I needed to hurry. That’s when I lost it,” she recalled. “I was driving as fast as I could to get to Breanna.”

It happened in a subdivision next to a golf course. The girls had been riding down the street making a video when Breanna fell out, slamming her head on the concrete.

“When I got there, I couldn’t drive to where she was because traffic was blocked. There were two police cars, an ambulance and a firetruck.”

Victoria sprinted to where her daughter was lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the street.

“My knees gave out, and I collapsed next to her. I was calling her name over and over, and she wasn’t responding,” she said. “Then she started shaking and had a seizure.”

Breanna was rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors determined she needed a Level 1 trauma center. She would have to be flown to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

“I told them I wanted to see her before they took her away. She was still nonresponsive, but I told her she had to pray, and that God was the only one who could save her.”

Breanna in the hospital after her accident

Dr. Egon Doppenberg was the neurosurgeon on call when Breanna arrived. Victoria would only learn later that her daughter had no brain activity at the time.

“He told us she had a 1% chance of survival and the only thing that may save her was a craniectomy, which involved removing part of her skull to give her brain room to swell,” said Victoria. “Dr. Doppenberg told us it was very risky, but since she was so young, he thought she might have a chance.”

Six hours later, Breanna was out of surgery. The operation had gone well, but she had a lot of work and healing ahead of her. Victoria stayed with her daughter every day and was grateful for the care she received.

“The doctors, nurses and staff were unbelievable; they were so helpful. One nurse even wrote down what all the machines were for and where the levels should be. They were just phenomenal.”

A long road to recovery

Breanna remained in an induced coma until July 29. Slowly, she began to wake up and respond to stimuli. She couldn’t talk, so she used notecards to communicate. To Victoria’s great relief, her daughter recognized her family.

“We didn’t know how much of her memory she’d lost, so it was such a great moment when I realized she knew I was her mom,” she shared.

Initially, Breanna was in the adult intensive care unit, but she was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Advocate Children’s Hospital after regaining consciousness. She began physical therapy through the PICU Up! Program™, which promotes early mobilization and rehabilitation for pediatric ICU patients.

“In addition to the brain injury, Breanna also shattered her right ankle, so she had surgery and therapy for her ankle too. The therapists and nurses were amazing. They got her to sound out words, answer questions and sit up for longer periods of time. They challenged and encouraged her so she could move on to the next steps in her recovery.”

After 34 days in the hospital, Breanna was moved to a rehabilitation center. On September 7, she was finally able to come home – 98 days after her accident.

Breanna is slowly but surely returning to her old life.

“Breanna’s not 100% yet, but if you were to meet her today, you’d never know she had a brain injury. She just finished outpatient physical therapy at the end of April,” said Victoria. “And she’s hoping to go back to beauty school in the fall.”

Victoria credits the doctors and her family’s faith for saving her daughter’s life.

“I believe it’s because of our faith that my daughter is here. God put just the right people in her path to save her life. It’s the reason she’s here.”

How you can help children like Breanna

You can support the exceptional care at Advocate Children’s Hospital and directly impact patients like Breanna and their families. Programs like PICU Up! are made possible thanks to charitable donations. Please consider making a gift today.