Labor Day 2015 started off as a typical day for the Neustel family. Then 9-year-old Carley Neustel and her older sister, Sydney, went to a nearby creek to go fishing. When it was time to go home, their mother, Lisa, drove her four-wheeler to the creek to tell the girls to come inside.
The sisters shared another ATV and began to follow their mom back to the house when the unimaginable happened.
“I accidentally lost control. I over-corrected and the tires caught the ditch,” says Carley. “Then it rolled and I got thrown out. Sydney got thrown out, but she only got bumps and bruises.”
Lisa hurried to get her husband, B.J., down to the scene.
“When I looked at her legs, I knew we had major issues,” remembers B.J.
“Her right leg was all but severed,” adds Lisa. “I found a piece of her bone that had come out next to her.”
Sydney was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital to treat minor injuries while Carley was transported via helicopter to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Both of Carley’s legs were broken in two different places. Her right leg was missing over 11 centimeters of bone above her ankle, and there was a chance it would need to be amputated.
“Probably the worst part was when the doctor came in and told me there was a 90 percent chance they were going to take her leg,” says B.J.
Orthopedic surgeon Michael Willey, MD, and his team ultimately decided the best course of action was to place external fixators in Carley’s right leg—pins inserted in the bone and turned a quarter of a millimeter four times a day to slowly extend the bone. So far, 9 of the 11 centimeters lost in the accident have “grown” back.
“He was talking to people and said they've regrown bones before, but never this extensive. He said he was willing to try it,” says B.J. “To regrow that bone in her leg was just amazing to me.”
Carley has undergone more than 20 surgeries and procedures and has taken full control of her care.
“She has done all of her pin care, all of her bandage changes. She doesn’t let them take the IV out, she takes it out for them,” says Lisa. “She’s a brave little thing, even when it hurts.”
Carley and her family are thankful for the specialized care she received.
“The team approach is great. We had four different teams [in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit],” says Lisa. “More than one opinion is always good, especially when it comes to what we are going to do with her.”
“If I hadn’t come to this hospital, I don’t know if I would have been able to keep my legs, so I’m really glad that they were able to help me,” adds Carley.
Carley hopes to someday work with children facing traumatic injuries. She believes her experiences can help others going through scary situations.
“If I do become a surgeon or a nurse, I would tell them [kids] what I’ve been through,” she says. “Since I was brave enough to go through that, they could be brave, [too].”