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Injured girl's recovery picks up speed


IN A JANUARY Neighbors column, we introduced you to Shelby Tribull, a little girl who had suffered traumatic brain injury on April 26, 1999, when she was hit by a van while riding her bike.

In a coma, she was airlifted from her Cape St. Claire neighborhood to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors gave Beth and Ed Tribull little hope that their child would survive the night.

Shelby made it through the night, and beyond - but recovery is slow, measured in months or years. And surviving traumatic brain injury is a frightening thing, Beth Tribull says.

Even though her eyes were open, Shelby was unaware of her eighth birthday that May 21, and didn't recognize anyone for months. She wasn't able to swallow solid food until Christmas. Drinking liquids, which requires even more muscles, came later.

When we first wrote about Shelby, it was nine months after the accident and her muscle control was minimal. When out of bed, she was in a wheelchair.

Miraculously, Shelby is on her feet. With the help of a walker, she's able to stand with her 7-year-old sister, Jenna, watching their Siamese kitten race around the family room.

Breathing difficulties have delayed the return of Shelby's speech, but therapists are working to strengthen her lung capacity, which is key to speaking. Her mother says doctors are confident she'll talk again, and she's beginning to say identifiable words such as "mom" and "dad."

Early in her recovery, Shelby devised a sign language to communicate with her sister. She was able to fulfill the roll of big sister, teasing Jenna and calling her by the nickname "Butthead."

Devoted to Shelby, Jenna refuses to play soccer, her favorite sport, or do anything else her older sister can't. But considering the speed with which Shelby is improving, Jenna may not have to forgo sports much longer.

Since April 3, Shelby has been an outpatient, Monday through Thursday, at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. The Tribulls credit doctors there for their daughter's remarkable improvement.

In March, doctors and therapists at Anne Arundel Medical Center, where she was being treated, recognized Shelby's need for more intensive therapy, so she and her mother began the weekly trip to duPont.

The doctors there put Shelby on amantadine, a drug for Parkinson's disease that has shown significant results with head trauma patients. Just 10 days later, the staff surprised Beth Tribull by asking if she knew that Shelby could walk.

Shelby and her walker have been inseparable ever since.

To correct a limp, Shelby had surgery to relax muscles in her left foot.

When that cast was removed, she underwent similar surgery on her right hand to help it move more naturally.

"She went right back into a cast the day the first one came off," her mother says, adding that Shelby was more concerned about not being able to swim in the hospital pool because of the casts than she was about the surgeries.

"Shelby brings me joy in a very special way," says Beth Tribull. "And Jenna brings me joy in a normal way," she adds with a smile.

She resists taking any credit for her daughter's improvement, although it's obvious that her commitment to both girls is a major factor in Shelby's recuperation and Jenna's adjustment to her sister's condition.

Because of her new mobility, Shelby was able to visit a shopping mall recently. Imagine a 9-year-old who hasn't been inside a store in more than a year. When she caught sight of the girls' fashions on display in the windows at Gap Too, her mom says, she set a walker speed record getting inside.

The latest good news is that Shelby, who celebrated her ninth birthday last month, has been promoted to the fourth grade at the duPont center school. She does all her schoolwork by reading from a computer screen and clicking her answers with the mouse.

Shelby's medical success has come at a steep price for the Tribulls. They have gone to the mailbox to find dozens of rejections from their insurance company.

"We have to fight them for everything," Beth Tribull says.

Treatment at duPont has depleted the family's resources, including a medical fund established in Shelby's name. Contributions may be sent to the Shelby Tribull Medical Fund, Annapolis National Bank, 1372B Cape St. Claire Road, Annapolis 21401.

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