- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. (AP) - With brunette curls, a twinkle in her eye and a cheerful attitude, 8-year-old Maelyne Cartee has returned to Russellville Elementary School.

For her, the best part of Monday, Wednesday and Friday is having lunch with her classmates. Having a love of nature and animals, she also enjoys being outside with her sisters Samarie, 3, and Kendra, 14.

Maelyne was trampled by a cow near her family’s Russellville home about a year ago, the News Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1GyKEv2 ).

“Her spirits boost a lot more when she can interact with kids her own age,” her father, Danny Cartee, said.

Cartee and Michelle Cotten have watched their daughter’s recovery with gratitude for the special people who have provided her care.

Today, she receives occupational therapy through the Special Learning Center in Jefferson City and speech therapy at school. Physical and occupational therapies are provided at the University of Missouri Children’s Therapy in Columbia.

Before she was released from the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Feb. 5, she spent up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week in intense therapies.

“People at both St. Louis and Columbia have been phenomenal, to take time to talk about our concerns, break it down for us, and get to know her,” Cotten said. “It takes a special person to deal with this.”

Her occupational therapy focuses on doing things for herself, and physical therapy is helping her to resume mobility.

When Maelyne first awoke from her coma, she “was almost like an Alzheimer’s patient,” Cartee said. Speech and memory restoration were a huge focus.

Each day Cartee would create a memory book with Maelyne about what she did that day, to help with retention.

“It’s terrible to have a 7-year-old who cannot remember what she did two minutes ago,” Cotten said.

The constant therapy and reinforcement have helped her improve.

“We definitely had our doubts,” Cartee said. “She’s come a long way compared to when she was released.”

Immediately following the accident, Cotten’s employer, the state Workers Compensation Division, allowed her to work some from the St. Louis customer service office to remain close to Maelyne. Cartee became Maelyne’s full-time caregiver.

The community of Russellville, as well as others in Mid-Missouri who heard of Maelyne’s accident, responded with donations, gifts and prayers.

“People have been so thoughtful,” Cartee said. “We wouldn’t have been able to maintain without their generosity.

“We want to give the biggest thank you to everybody. The support and compassion has been overwhelming, how (even strangers have) embraced us.

“People’s care and prayers have been felt.”

For the first time in the 14 years Cotten has worked for the state, she donated through the Charitable Campaign. It’s only $12 divided for the year between the Ronald McDonald House, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the Pet Therapy, she said.

“Until you are in that situation and utilize them, you don’t realize how needed they are,” Cotten said.

Just as the young family at first didn’t want the donations from their friends and community, they didn’t want to use the Ronald McDonald House either.

But as they accepted their situation, they realized how grateful they were those resources were offered.

Without the community’s help, they said, the untold miles of travel would not have been possible. Without the Ronald McDonald House, they would have spent thousands of dollars on hotel nights.

For four months, the family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, where their “rent” was cleaning the microwave each day. Volunteers prepared meals for the 13 families staying in the house, one of three in St. Louis, each weekend. Volunteers also brought in a full Thanksgiving meal for them and made sure siblings had plenty of gifts for Christmas.

“Their No. 1 goal is the rest of the family, to make sure no one falls through the cracks,” Cartee said.

The St. Louis Children’s Hospital is filled with cheerful, compassionate employees from the greeter and janitor to the nurse and the doctor.

“They hired weird, bubbly people,” Cartee said. “They were almost like family by the time we left.”

Inside are families from across the Midwest, all with sick children. The families there understood one another without having to explain their individual situations, Cotten said.

And rooms apart from the clinical environment helped the parents and siblings retreat for a while.

“It was good to have a place to forget where you’re at, to cut up and be yourself again,” Cotten said.

Cartee said he was blessed and changed from what he observed and experienced through the people at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“If they can smile, I can smile,” he said.

One of the best services while they were at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital was the Pet Therapy.

The first canine visitor came by while Maelyne was still in a coma and simply curled up with her in the bed, Cartee said.

“When they came around, you could see her eyes light up,” Cotten said.

The dogs and their owners donated their time to visit every patient, in addition to the many hours of training to be part of the program, Cotten said.

They neither jump nor bark, given the delicate condition some of the patients might be in, she said.

“They’re very obedient.”

Maelyne’s favorite visitor was Lucy, a Pomeranian, who even traveled to Russellville for a visit after she had been discharged from the St. Louis hospital. She called her “Lucy Caboosey.”

The family hopes others will support such organizations like the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and the Pet Therapy.

“We would be lost without them,” Cotten said. “They’re the ones who have gotten Mae as far as she is.”

But Cotten acknowledged watching as a parent is still frustrating.

“You still want her out playing in the yard with her sisters, instead of watching from a wheelchair.”

___

Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com

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