By Gary Popp
Published in News on January 17, 2012 1:46 PM
Kennedy Dean, 7, thinks about an answer during her first session with Northeast Elementary teacher Karen Mzyk. Ms. Mzyk tested Kennedy's word recognition skills in her Pikeville home. She returned home from Pitt Memorial Hospital Dec. 22 after being there for recovery from a brain hemorrhage she suffered in early September.
Kennedy shares a moment with her dad, Goldsboro police Sgt. Dwayne Dean.
The Dean family's best Christmas present did not come in a box.
It was the news that 7-year-old Kennedy was coming home after spending 104 days at Pitt Memorial Hospital recovering from a brain hemorrhage that could have taken her life.
The Northeast Elementary second-grader was -- and is -- their miracle.
Dwayne and Kim Dean were not sure how their daughter's story would end when they got the news that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage on the Northeast playground Sept. 9.
And although they had faith that God would take care of their little girl, that did not stop them from worrying that Kennedy might not make it through the emergency surgery in Greenville.
But she did.
They stayed by her side while Kennedy battled through 74 days in the pediatric intensive care unit and then 30 days in the children's rehabilitation center, making their home in the Ronald McDonald House on the Pitt Memorial campus.
It was their faith, they say, that got them through.
"I said that she was going to walk out of that hospital, and that is exactly what the Lord blessed her with," said her father, Dwayne, a sergeant with the Goldsboro Police Department. "She walked unassisted outside those doors. It was great."
The Dean family left the Greenville facility for their Pikeville home the morning of Dec. 22.
Having Kennedy home for Christmas was a dream come true for her parents and 16-year-old brother, Hunter.
"We had been praying that (Kennedy's release date) was going to be before Christmas," Dwayne said. "That was elation and brought tears to our eyes."
With both of their children safe at home, Dwayne and Kim felt the true meaning of Christmas.
"It wouldn't have mattered if there was one present under the tree or 10 or none, Kennedy coming home was our present," he said.
In the weeks prior to Kennedy's release date, Dwayne had made only three trips back to their house, mainly to transport the many gifts that had been given to Kennedy while she was in the hospital and to help Hunter prepare for the homecoming.
Kim had not made a single trip home while Kennedy was at Pitt Memorial.
"It was great just returning home," Dwayne said. "It is the little, simple things that each and every one of us take for granted, like being able to take your shoes off and walk on your own carpet and sleep in your own bed."
Even though she is home now, Kennedy is continuing to receive therapy.
"We thought her day was busy before, it is really busy now. She has something now every day of the week," Dwayne said. "It is good for her being busy, though."
Three times a week Kennedy goes for occupational, physical and speech therapies at Thera-Peds, and an exceptional children's teacher from Northeast Elementary visits Kennedy in the Dean home for additional therapy and academic instruction.
The goal is to get Kennedy ready to go back to school.
"All that is to help get her back to a point where she can, at some point in time, begin to go back (to school) for a couple hours a day on an abbreviated schedule before she can go back full time," Dwayne said.
He added that Kennedy is expected to return to school sometime this semester, but said it is too soon tosay when she will return to a regular schedule.
Dwayne said the rapid progress Kennedy made at the intensive care unit, then in rehab has continued in their home, and the family is optimistic about the future.
"She is improving daily," he said. "I don't foresee us taking any steps backward. It all looks up from here. She has come a long way since Sept. 9. We are just looking at her getting back into somewhat of a routine she had before."
Dwayne explained that doctors have told the family that Kennedy will need to take it easy for the next six to 12 months, and that she will have to be patient before returning to some of her favorite activities like playing soccer, riding a bike and running.
He said that since returning home, Kennedy is sleeping well and seems to have a bigger appetite than before the incident.
"Her stamina still isn't back to where it was before, but it is a whole lot better," Dwayne said, adding that she is very driven to help herself get back to 100 percent.
"There have been times at rehab and since we have been home that things have gotten hard for her, and she would start to cry, but she would work through it," he said. "That is the strength and determination that the Lord has given her."
He said that Kennedy's triumph since the hemorrhage is also due to the virtually limitless support she has received from Pitt Memorial's nursing staff, loved ones and even people the Dean family doesn't know who have commented on a Facebook page kept by Kim and Dwayne.
"There has been so much encouragement with everybody, it is just amazing," Dwayne said.
The Facebook page titled, "Praying Together for Kennedy Dean" now has more than 2,000 followers. Since September, Kim and Dwayne have used the social networking site to post more than 250 updates on Kennedy's status.
Dwayne said he and Kim will continue to make new posts as Kennedy progresses, but the frequency of the updates may decline, now that they are home and have less free time.
Kennedy is high-spirited and already thinking about returning to her life before the brain hemorrhage, Dwayne said.
"She wants to get back to school to be with her friends, to be on the playground. She wants to get back on the soccer field," he said.
Dwayne and Kim have no doubt their daughter will do just that.
"She is going to succeed. She already has succeeded because she walked out of that hospital. She is going to walk through those doors of Northeast school, too," Dwayne said.