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Girl is alive and kicking, thanks to patient support

Hoping someday to become a cheerleader, Damoniesha White practices dance routines nightly with girlfriends in her Clearwater neighborhood.

By day, Damoniesha, 7, attends second grade at Curlew Creek Elementary School. But two afternoons a week, she goes to outpatient therapy at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Largo, strengthening coordination and reflex skills damaged when she was hit by a car while crossing Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

On Monday night, Damoniesha joined 13 other HealthSouth rehabilitation honorees and friends at the seventh annual Survivor Celebration, a special event to honor hard work and persistence.

"It's a wonderful shot in the arm for us," said Cyndi Hay, director of therapeutic recreation for HealthSouth. "It's very motivating to see how well they are doing."

Many honorees are fortunate to be alive. Damoniesha, for example, was left unconscious after her March 22 accident, with brain injuries and multiple fractures, including a broken femur in her right leg. She was flown to All Children's Hospital, where she lay, at times unconscious, until April 7, when she was moved to HealthSouth. She graduated to the outpatient program in 16 days.

At HealthSouth, Damoniesha received speech therapy and learned how to walk and ride her bike again. She came home using a wheelchair and walker but now walks on her own, sometimes wearing a pink and white leg brace.

Barbara White remembers falling to her knees and praying when she first heard about her daughter's injuries.

"I want to . . . thank the nurses and doctors and everybody that prayed for her and thank the Lord for her still being here," she said.

Trauma survivors often act as wakeup calls to people who think they may never face rehabilitation because of an accident, a coma, a heart attack or stroke.

Seventy percent of the population will face a debilitating condition or have a family member who does, said Elaine Ebaugh, chief executive at the Largo facility.

"When you meet it, you want to know there's hope," Ebaugh said. "It's a service you hope you never need, but when you do, you sure want to know these services are available."

The survivors honored Monday included Mardy Weinstein, who experienced severe back pain after a 10-hour shift at her job. Weinstein drove herself to an emergency room, where a heart attack was diagnosed. After cardiac surgery, she went to HealthSouth to regain the ability to care for herself.

After a thorn lodged in his toe, Roberto Melendez developed tetanus and multiple complications, resulting in a 35-day coma. After emerging from the coma but still unable to walk, he's now working to regain his motor skills in the HealthSouth gym.

Also on the survivors' award list was Clearwater businessman Mike Hudson, vice president of sales for Bee Hive Awards and Advertising Specialties. Born without a right hand, Hudson isn't a HealthSouth rehabilitation patient. Instead, HealthSouth often buys awards from his firm.

Hudson has been participating in National Amputee Golf Association tournaments since 1975 and has won championships in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.