Nothing stops 8-year-old Gia Evola. She is a cheerleader, does tumbling, dances hip hop and swims. To look at her now, you would never know that a car accident several years ago almost left her completely paralyzed.
“Gia, then 18-months-old, was in a car accident and injured her neck,” says Nikki Evola, Gia’s mom. “We stayed at a nearby hospital for observation and on the third day she was discharged. Several days later, Gia was having a difficult time walking so we took her to see a specialist who performed a CT scan. It’s at that point that we learned she had fractured her C1 and C2 vertebrae – the most severe of all spinal cord injuries and the same neck vertebrae that actor Christopher Reeve fractured which left him paralyzed.”
Due to the location of the injury and her age, the doctor referred Gia to Lurie Children’s, then Children’s Memorial, to see Tord Alden, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon who could perform the complex surgery. “She had severely injured the ligaments that connect her neck to her head,” says Alden. “Because she was so young, we had to order special instruments to perform the delicate surgery.”
Nikki and her husband weren’t sure their daughter would be able to walk again. After a five-hour surgery, Dr. Alden came out of the operating room and said everything went well. “She is extremely lucky that she did not have a complete spinal cord injury,” says Alden. Gia spent two months in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where she learned how to walk again.
But her medical journey did not end there. Several months later, she started to feel lethargic. She was sleeping and complained of back pain. Nikki called Dr. Alden and he told her to take her to Lurie Children’s Emergency Department where a CT scan was performed. The scan showed Gia had four blood clots in the brain. Her diagnosis – autoimmune hemolitic anemia, a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over. Gia’s disease is managed by the specialists in Lurie Children’s Center of Cancer and Blood Disorders. Today, she is in remission and comes to the hospital once a year.
Nikki’s husband, Joe, calls their little girl Super Gia because she survived a major car accident that almost left her paralyzed and is now dealing with a rare autoimmune disease. “Our daughter will need medical care the rest of her life. We are fortunate that there is a place like Lurie Children’s that has the caliber of specialists that can treat the toughest conditions and diagnoses. That is pretty super, too,” says Nikki.