"I'm calm the whole time I'm in the helicopter," Samantha said. "I'm thinking, 'OK, this happened. These people are taking good care of me. You'll be fine'."
Connie Elzein was working at Expectations Hair Salon that day and had her cellphone off. She only knew something was wrong when her husband, Mohamad, showed up at the Hereford salon.
"All he said is there had been an accident and Samantha was on her way to Shock Trauma," Connie recalled. "We got there about the same time the helicopter was coming in."
They learned that Samantha had a spinal cord injury at her C6 cervical level — the sixth bone in her spine. She had surgery at 3 a.m. to remove pieces of shattered vertebrae. Doctors fused her C5 and C6 bones together and inserted titanium stabilizing rods.
When Samantha awakened, she had breathing tubes and feeding tubes down her throat and couldn't talk.
Her mother spent the next 21 days and nights at Shock Trauma while Samantha went through another surgery before she had a tracheotomy to breathe without tubes.
"The doctors said they see lots of accidents like Samantha's," her mother said. "People don't think they could be in danger when they go swimming. But this should be a warning to be careful in the ocean."
ROAD TO RECOVERY
By the time she left Shock Trauma for rehabilitation, Samantha could move both arms, her right leg and her left foot, but had no strength in any limb. After an initial stay at Kernan Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, she transferred to Kennedy Krieger Institute on Sept. 17.
"When she first came here, Samantha's legs hurt a lot, her hands were really weak, she wore a cervical collar and still had a trach tube in," said Dr. Suzanne Prestwich, medical director of the in-patient pediatric rehabilitation unit. "Basically, her sixth cervical bone exploded in the accident. Since she's been here, she's had a great outcome. We're always very hopeful for a recovery like this, but it will be a long recovery."
Samantha worked through six hours of physical therapy a day at Kennedy Krieger Institute and she'll continue therapy there on an outpatient basis.
The day before she left to go home, Dr. Bank stopped in for a visit. He has stayed in contact with Samantha's family since the accident.
"We never stopped thinking about her," he said. "It was amazing to see her doing so well. Her attitude is incredible and I'm a huge believer in what a difference that can make."
She's had to postpone going back to Essex Community College, although she hopes to take online classes until she's able to return.
Her family just built a ramp to the front door of their one-story house. Luckily, the interior doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair. But Samantha is convinced she won't need the wheelchair or walker one day. And her progress so far has made believers out of her friends and family.
"The thought of not walking again never crossed her mind," said Barone, who set up a website that accepts donations to help with Samantha's medical expenses. "She can visualize herself walking, hiking and dancing again. With everything that's happened, it's clear that God really is in the miracle business."
Contributions toward Samantha's expenses can be made at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/caV0f.