Kaelyn Staggs, 10, of Lafayette, Ind., was busy this fall training for her third 5K. The fifth-grader is active in a program at Mayflower Mill Elementary School called Girls on the Run, which teaches fitness and confidence through running. Kaelyn stands out not just because of her happy, outgoing personality, but also because she conquers her races in a wheelchair.
Kaelyn suffered a broken back and severe concussion in a head-on car collision on July 29, 2013. The accident left her without feeling or function in the lower half of her body. After being airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health,
Kaelyn underwent back surgery on August 1. She spent the entire month in recovery and inpatient rehabilitation, followed by outpatient physical therapy and occupational therapy.
“I just can’t speak enough about all the doctors and nurses we’ve met along this journey,” says Kaelyn’s mother Shelena Staggs. Kaelyn sees Riley Pediatric Rehabilitation Specialist Kerstin Sobus, M.D., and Riley Pediatric Urologist Benjamin Wittham, M.D. Her favorite Riley connection, however, was with a “really funny” teacher named Jeff in inpatient rehabilitation, whom Kaelyn jokingly christened “Princess Boring.”
“She’s always telling jokes or trying to pull pranks on people,” Shelena says. “She’s not going to let anything stop her, or get her down, or change her outlook on life.”
“I just loved meeting all the people there,” Kaelyn says of her caregivers at Riley. The hospital’s Child Life Specialists always made Kaelyn smile, and she especially enjoyed the Cheer Guild’s stuffed animal wagon . Kaelyn enjoys giving back to other Riley patients, and has joined her friends in Girls on the Run in making blankets to donate to Riley.
Kaelyn says that when she learned she was a Riley Champion, “I broke into my happy dance.” It’s no surprise that this shining girl—who turned her biggest challenge into her biggest strength—not only participates in 5Ks, but dances, too.