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‘An absolute miracle’: 9-year-old girl recovering from near-fatal neck injury after skiing accident

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Doctors are calling her case a miracle. Nine-year-old Josie Kovacic is out of the hospital and just started fourth grade at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School after a near-death experience. However, Josie has a guardian angel and a support system that knows how to have hope when tragedy strikes. On Feb. 27, Josie went skiing at Seven Springs with her grandfather and some family members. “Me and my family were going skiing,” she said. “I honestly don’t remember.” Her grandfather, Joe Kovacic, said Josie had been skiing a lot. times before, and that it was a beautiful day and not too crowded. That’s when a snowboarder lost control and crashed into Josie. “Around 10:30, we got a call saying there was an accident,” said Josie’s mother, Traci Kovacic. “When she was hit, she was thrown 20 feet in the air and she landed face down.” She continued, “Her heart had stopped beating after the impact for about 10 minutes,” and “the impact detached her head from her neck by about two inches.” Josie’s brother and cousin saw her and started to scream for help. Her grandfather’s best friend, who is a doctor, came down the slope and started CPR, and a nurse who had taken the day off to ski also came to help. ski patrol arrived, they had told me that they don’t usually bring the defoliators and those sorts of things to a stop like that, but they just happened to have that on them,” Traci Kovacic said. “It took them about 10 minutes. with the defoliators to get her revived and get her heart beating again.” The Kovacic family has been through a lot in the past six years, and the thought of losing Josie was unbearable. “That’s the first thing that I thought of was Michael being done,” Joe Kovacic said. Michael is Josie’s father. He died in 2015, running the EQT 10 Miler in Pittsburgh. “He was very healthy and, tragically, he suddenly collapsed and died at the finish line,” Traci Kovacic said. ” It’s been a long six years for our family here. So, to relive all of that sort of tr auma, and those phone calls and the unknown has been very difficult.” Josie’s family believes as she was near death, her dad was looking out for her. “I just have this feeling,” Josie said. “I have to think that he had to have placed a part in that somehow,” Traci Kovacic said. “I just did a lot of praying, you know, and just couldn’t believe that this happened again to us, and so having another accident like this, so I just kept praying Josie would be OK, that she would make it,” Joe Kovacic said. Josie was flown to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.Dr. Michael McDowell, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the hospital, said Josie came to him with a neck injury called atlantooccipital dislocation. He said that is “a dislocation of the neck separating the top of the neck from the bottom of the skull.” “One of the reasons this is such an interesting case is the fact that, often, this is a lethal injury, and truthfully, we don’t actually know how often it is in terms of lethality because it’s so high, and so many of These patients are sick before arriving at the hospital,” McDowell said. He said a vast number of things had to go right before Josie got to the hospital for her to live. “It really is a testament to the wonderful care she got from the ski patrol and from the EMS providers in terms of maintaining her spine stability. until she was in a situation where we could correct it with surgery,” McDowell said. Josie braved about three months in the hospital between the PICU and rehab. At first, she was unconscious and on a breathing tube. Day by day, she improved. “It’s an absolute miracle,” McDowell said. “Again, these patients very frequently die from this injury before they even make it to the hospital. Not only so much because of the nerve injury, but because when you don’t have a connection between your spine and your head, the blood vessels that connect them are under a lot of stress and it usually causes life-threatening strokes.” Traci said she was told that Josie may never eat or speak normally again, but she’s already completely eating her meals. Josie is also walking, talking, reading and writing. “I feel extremely grateful for where we are at now,” Traci Kovacic said. “It’s a great feeling. I really do consider Josie one of the great successes of my career thus far, and I’m really grateful that I’m in a position that I’ll be able to follow along with her as she hopefully continues to recover and goes on to do great things of her own someday,” McDowell said. Josie continues to make remarkable strides, and with her dad watching over her, she has a bright future ahead. “Josie has a purpose in life and maybe she hasn’t been defined yet, but I believe she does and this is going to have a big impact on her,” Joe Kovacic said.

Doctors are calling her case a miracle.

Nine-year-old Josie Kovacic is out of the hospital and just started fourth grade at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School after a near-death experience.

9-year-old Josie Kovacic is out of the hospital and just started fourth  x20;grade at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School after a near death experience

However, Josie has a guardian angel and a support system that knows how to have hope when tragedy strikes.

On Feb. 27, Josie went skiing at Seven Springs with her grandfather and some family members.

“Me and my family were going skiing,” she said. “I honestly don’t remember.”

Her grandfather, Joe Kovacic, said Josie had been skiing many times before, and that it was a beautiful day and not too crowded.

That’s when a snowboarder lost control and crashed into Josie.

“Around 10:30, we got a call saying there was an accident,” said Josie’s mother, Traci Kovacic. “When she was hit, she was thrown 20 feet in the air and she landed face down.”

She continued, “Her heart had stopped beating after the impact for about 10 minutes,” and “the impact detached her head from her neck by about two inches.”

Josie’s brother and cousin saw her and started to scream for help. Her grandfather’s best friend, who is a doctor, came down the slope and started CPR, and a nurse who had taken the day off to ski also came to help.

“When the ski patrol arrived, they had told me that they don’t usually bring the defoliators and those sorts of things to a stop like that, but they just happened to have that on them,” Traci Kovacic said. “It took them about 10 minutes with the defoliators to get her revived and get her heart beating again.”

The Kovacic family has been through a lot in the past six years, and the thought of losing Josie was unbearable.

“That’s the first thing that I thought of was Michael being done,” Joe Kovacic said.

Michael is Josie’s father. He died in 2015, running the EQT 10 Miler in Pittsburgh.

“He was very healthy and, tragically, he suddenly collapsed and died at the finish line,” Traci Kovacic said. “It’s been a long six years for our family here. So, to relive all of that sort of trauma, and those phone calls and the unknown has been very difficult.”

9-year-old Josie Kovacic is out of the hospital and just started fourth  x20;grade at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School after a near death experience

Josie’s family believes as she was near death, her father was looking out for her.

“I just have this feeling,” Josie said.

“I have to think that he had to have placed a part in that somehow,” Traci Kovacic said. “I don’t know if he said it just wasn’t her time yet and sent her back or what.”

“I just did a lot of praying, you know, and just couldn’t believe that this happened again to us, and so having another accident like this, so I just kept praying Josie would be OK, that she would make it,” Joe Kovacic said.

Josie was flown to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Michael McDowell, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the hospital, said Josie came to him with a neck injury called atlantooccipital dislocation. He said that is “a dislocation of the neck separating the top of the neck from the bottom of the skull.”

“One of the reasons this is such an interesting case is the fact that, often, this is a lethal injury, and truthfully, we don’t actually know how often it is in terms of lethality because it’s so high, and so many of These patients are sick before arriving at the hospital,” McDowell said.

He said a vast number of things had to go right before Josie got to the hospital for her to live.

“It really is a testament to the wonderful care she got from the ski patrol and from the EMS providers in terms of maintaining her spine stability until she was in a situation where we could correct it with surgery,” McDowell said.

Josie braved about three months in the hospital between the PICU and rehab. At first, she was unconscious and on a breathing tube. Day by day, she improved.

“It’s an absolute miracle,” McDowell said. “Again, these patients very frequently die from this injury before they even make it to the hospital. Not only so much because of the nerve injury, but because when you don’t have a connection between your spine and your head, the blood vessels that connect them are under a lot of stress and it usually causes life-threatening strokes.”

Traci said she was told that Josie may never eat or speak normally again, but she’s already completely eating her meals. Josie is also walking, talking, reading and writing.

“I feel extremely grateful for where we are at now,” Traci Kovacic said.

9-year-old josie kovacic is out of the hospital and just started fourth  x20;grade at eden hall upper elementary school after a near death experience

“It’s a great feeling. I really do consider Josie one of the great successes of my career thus far, and I’m really grateful that I’m in a position that I’ll be able to follow along with her as she hopefully continues to recover and goes on to do great things of her own someday,” McDowell said.

Josie continues to make remarkable strides, and with her dad watching over her, she has a bright future ahead.

“Josie has a purpose in life and maybe she hasn’t been defined yet, but I believe she does and this is going to have a big impact on her,” Joe Kovacic said.

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