Hannah Streeter, a Glidden-Ralston junior and captain of the Carroll High swim team, was thrown from her sport utility vehicle on her morning drive to school in late September.
Hannah Streeter, a Glidden-Ralston junior and captain of the Carroll High swim team, was thrown from her sport utility vehicle on her morning drive to school in late September.
November 1, 2013



DES MOINES

Hannah Streeter barely heard the garbled yells of her coach as her hands cut the water and her legs kicked as she glided - back and forth, back and forth - across a Marshalltown pool in September.

Left stroke.

Right.

Left.

Breathe.

It was the Bobcat Invitational high school meet, and Streeter, 16, crisscrossed the length of the pool 20 times for the daunting 500-meter race that goes on for more than 6 minutes.

It's her specialty.

She dives into the pool, and the world washes away. Her head numbs as her thoughts drift from her pacing to an upbeat radio song to her breathing.

Stroke.

Stroke.

Stroke.

Breathe.

But for that race, she was assigned a lane on the edge of the pool, where her Carroll High coach, Shawn Stewart, stayed close.

Hannah remembers his nonsensical screams as he walked with her, pushing her a bit faster down the lane. Swimmers from other teams gawked at the coach and shot cellphone videos. Near the end of the race, Stewart crawled along the pool and flapped his arms to mimic her legs.

She gave an underwater grin as her goggles fogged. She kicked harder. She finished with her personal best time of 6 minutes and 24 seconds.

Hannah thinks back to that moment each day now as she lies in a Des Moines hospital, where it takes all of her strength and grit to kick just one time. Five days after the Marshalltown race, Hannah was paralyzed in a crash on her morning drive to school in Glidden.

She was southbound on Timber Avenue, the paved county road that bisects the town, about 5 miles from the school, where she is a straight-"A" junior. The right tires of her Chevrolet S-10 Blazer dipped off the roadway, and she jerked the vehicle left.

The Blazer flipped, and Hannah, who doesn't remember the crash nor whether she wore a seatbelt at the time, was thrown into a farm field.

Marie Streeter's daughters screamed through her cellphone.

No one responded when she talked back. It must have been an accidental call, she thought, which happens all the time.

She hung up and returned the call. No answer.

That Monday morning was typical. Her three daughters showered and dressed and got ready for the first school day of the week.

Their dad, Dan, fed and tended the hogs on their family farm north of Glidden. Sister Lily, 14, got distracted by the cat or the TV and delayed their departure for class. The girls had left for school 10 minutes ago.

The phone call tugged at Marie's mind. Something might be wrong, she worried. She drove the girls' route to Glidden, on paved roads through Lanesboro and then south.

And then her husband called and said there was a crash.

Marie went to the field and found Hannah - who wore a knight costume with a belt and cardboard sword for royalty day of homecoming week - on her back near the Blazer and its shattered windows. Hannah's boots, taped with silvery stripes, were gone from her feet.

The younger sisters were crying.

Hannah moaned that her back hurt and tried to roll over. She had a deep gash just above her left eye. Marie could see bone.

Don't move, Marie told her delirious daughter as ambulances approached. One took Hannah to St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, where she was later flown by medical helicopter to Des Moines.

Marie was hopeful. Hannah could feel her feet.



SMALL STEPS

Hannah spent her entire first day in Des Moines in an emergency room, where doctors and nurses took X-rays and other tests. They pulled the shards of glass from her left brow and stitched its gash.

The crash shattered two of her spine's vertebrae that lay between her shoulder blades.

Two days after the crash, surgeons cut bone from her hip to rebuild her spine and screwed six vertebrae together with metal rods.

Hannah's spinal cord was bruised, not cut, the doctors said. But it was impossible to tell whether she might walk or swim again.

Hannah lay in an intensive-care room for the next two weeks as friends and family drove to see her. Some were shocked and scared by the tube down her throat as her bruised lungs struggled to breathe, her eye bruised and black and stitched.

Friends shared the latest news from school about a classmate who was ticketed for having alcohol and how the football team lost its homecoming game the week of the crash - maybe because they were sluggish from a big steak dinner the night before. The girls talked about hook-ups and break-ups and gossiped like high school girls do: OH. MY. GOSH. She did that?

Three weeks after the crash, Kenzie Gorden, a Lake City teen who was paralyzed in another crash last year on the same road when she swerved around a deer and her pickup truck tumbled into a field, rolled into Hannah's room. The families knew each other from church activities.

The girls shared their stories, and Kenzie talked about her two summers at a Denver hospital - renowned for its ability to help people walk - and told the stories of the other patients she met there. Hannah drifted to sleep as her pain medicines took hold.

Kenzie lay in a Mayo Clinic hospital bed for two months before her legs started to move again. And now, 17 months after her crash, Kenzie can walk if one or two people hold her. Her legs are strong enough to stand for many minutes, but they're too weak to support her strides. She rolls most often in a wheelchair.

The visit struck Marie - a "reality check," she called it - who glimpsed one possible future for her daughter.

But then it happened.

"Hey, mom. Look."

Hannah moved her left foot that day.

"Am I really doing this?"

Hours later, she twisted her leg back and forth. It was the first of many small steps yet to come in Hannah's long journey to walk and swim again.

"I was absolutely nuts," Marie recalled.

She cried.



KICKING AGAIN

Hannah grimaced as she inched her leg across a cushioned table at Iowa Methodist Medical Center this week.

Bring it out, her therapists yelled as her mother's iPad recorded the moment.

Bring it out, Hannah.

Come on, push.

All the way.

One big breath, one last burst, and Hannah's right leg extended out.

Yes.

It was about a week ago that Hannah said again, "Hey, Mom, look," and her right foot moved. Her therapists have gone from merely stretching her hips and knees and ankles in the mornings and afternoons to strapping weights to her leg and challenging her to lift.

Hannah's kick is coming back in her left leg - although it is meager. On her right, she struggles to move with help.

There are still times her mind goes numb and the world washes away and she hears her coach's garbled yells again, taunting her, pushing her, to kick.

In each of her team's seven swim meets since the crash, coach Stewart entered Hannah in the 500-meter race. Her specialty.

Her lane sat empty as her peers swam the grueling races - back and forth, back and forth.

It awaits her return.