Meet Spitfire Spinner
Elizabeth Elder, Age 13, from Canfield, Ohio
Sidekicks: Her cousins and best friend, Ami.
When she’s not busy overcoming obstacles: She enjoys playing with her American Girl dolls, dancing and participating in swimming and Challenger Baseball.
Did you know fact: Elizabeth is a skillful flag twirler and practices with the South Range High School Raider Marching Band flagline.
Why Elizabeth is a #ACHero: Through sheer will and determination, Elizabeth is proof that anything is possible when you work hard at it. Born with permanent brain damage, Elizabeth has put in countless hours of therapy and undergone extensive surgeries to gain the strength and capacity to walk, talk and participate in school and sports.
Elizabeth’s Story: Elizabeth’s parents, Tim and Laura Elder, adopted Elizabeth when she was just 4 days old. At 3 months old, the new parents noticed Elizabeth couldn’t open her left eye as much as the right and her fists were often tightly clamped. At a 6-month evaluation, Elizabeth’s parents were told a neurologist should examine her right away.
“I wanted to take her to the very best neurologist possible,” said mom, Laura Elder. “I didn’t care where we had to go…”
The next day, the new family made their way to Akron Children’s Neurology department for testing where they learned Elizabeth most likely suffered a stroke in utero, causing permanent brain damage. Elizabeth’s right front lobe was completely destroyed, which meant there was a real possibility she may never walk, talk or learn.
“I told the doctors, ‘No, that’s unacceptable. There has to be something we can do to help her,’” said Laura.
Since the pathways from Elizabeth’s brain to the spine don’t work correctly, her leg muscles get muddled signals, making them contract and become stiff. To correct nerve irregularities in her spine and keep her walking, Elizabeth had a selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery at Akron Children’s Spasticity Clinic.
Part of her recovery included intense day rehab where she underwent hours of occupational, physical and aquatic therapy, multiple times a day, 5 days a week.
The next year, at age 9, Elizabeth had a derotational osteotomy on her knees that realigned her bones to relieve pain and improve function. To aid in healing, she spent all summer back in day rehab for intense therapy.
After both surgeries, Elizabeth’s therapy included support from Doggie Brigade member Chris Witschey and her dogs.
“One exercise involved having Elizabeth put a bandana on and off one of the dogs for an hour. The dog just laid her head on Elizabeth’s chest, patiently allowing her to work on her fine motor skills,” said Laura. “Once Elizabeth got stronger, the dogs came in to help her walk. She would hold the leash and walk about 2.5 feet in 45 minutes, but the dog didn’t mind. He just sat and waited for her, encouraging Elizabeth to walk.”
A few years later, Dr. Sheryl Handler performed a SPLATT (split tibialis anterior tendon transfer) procedure to further relieve spasticity in Elizabeth’s legs to help her mobility.
In 2016, Elizabeth’s already diagnosed seizure disorder began to change in intensity and duration as she entered puberty. To determine the cause, Dr. Lucyna Zawadzki monitored Elizabeth for 4 days and did an MRI that showed the entire right side of Elizabeth’s brain was destroyed except for the very back and top.
“Without knowing Elizabeth and only looking at her results, the doctor said Elizabeth would be classified as nonverbal and in a vegetative state,” said Laura. “Thank goodness Elizabeth is a little spitfire and very, very determined…We always tell her that if you can’t do it the way everyone else does, find another way to do it, and she does.”
Today, Elizabeth walks, talks, dances and uses both hands, even twirling a flag alongside her high school marching band – all things that were considered nearly impossible for her to do given her condition.
“We’ve had phenomenal therapists and doctors over the years who have become like family to us …we’re so thankful we chose Akron Children’s for her care,” said Laura. “We all try to make her the best she can be and give her skills so she can contribute.”