Bradenton 'miracle' girl has emotional reunion with lifesavers

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 30, 2013 

MANATEE -- Miley Cyrus' "Hoedown Throwdown" had the power Monday to make grown men and women cry.

It wasn't the song itself. It was seeing 6-year-old Onicka Patterson of Bradenton sing, dance and clap to the song's lyrics off a cell phone held by a 15-year-old family member Shaniece Harrell that melted Longboat Key firefighter paramedic Brian Kolesa and Manatee County EMS medics Jesse Mannix and Kevin Mackin.

"When the drum hits, hands on your hips," said Onicka, with attitude. "Lean it left, clap three times. Shake it out, head to toe. Throw it all together, that's how we roll. Do the hoedown throwdown."

This was the same 6-year-old girl, the emergency workers marveled later, who seven months ago had suffered a large open skull fracture after a horrendous vehicle crash at Cortez Road and 75th Street West left her without a pulse and unable to breathe.

The fracture was so severe the brain herniated through the top of her head, causing the eventual loss of part of her frontal lobe and a large portion of her skull, said her mother, Donna Pearson.

Thanks to the quick action of Kolesa, who was first on the scene and got her breathing again, and Mannix and Macklin, who stabilized her while waiting for the All Children's Hospital helicopter, Onicka beat stiff odds against survival and has come back nearly 100 percent except for some weakness in her right arm and the need to wear a leg brace, Pearson said.

Although she lost some of her frontal lobe, which controls personality, hers was not affected, her mother said.

She still loves dressing dolls, eating raw apples, dancing to Miley Cyrus, teasing her brothers, Tavarese, 10, and Julian, 5, and watching "SpongeBob SquarePants" on TV.

"The doctors said she would probably never walk or talk," Pearson said. "Her memory is back. Her personality has returned. We think nothing will stop her now."

On Monday, it was time to thank the emergency workers who had saved her life.

"Look at you," Kolesa said to Onicka, cutting through the crowd to kneel and hug the little girl during an emotional reunion at the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Station.

Onicka hugged back and handed Kolesa letters she had written to him. It took Onicka's family months to find Kolesa because he had stopped to render aid on his way to his job on Longboat Key and wasn't part of the official rescue team.

"I want you to fulfill all of your dreams now. You can do it," Kolesa whispered to Onicka.

"You are my daughter's guardian angel walking on Earth," Onicka's tearful mother said to Kolesa before she buried her head in his shoulder and wept.

"Thank you is not the right word," Pearson whispered.

Onicka also hugged Mannix and Mackin.

Onicka looks like a happy child. But to the three paramedics, she was a living breathing miracle, they each said.

"I can't tell you how joyous it makes me to see her walking and talking," Kolesa said.

"I can't believe what I am seeing," Mannix said. "I didn't expect her to be walking and talking. She has defied the odds. The stars were all lined up for her."

Onicka's stars

Kolesa was driving west on Cortez Road, heading to his job at the Longboat Key Fire Station at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 19, 2012, when approaching 75th Street West he saw cars parked everywhere in the haphazard way that signals an accident.

He stopped and raced to a crushed 1984 Chevrolet Caprice, minus a door, which contained a mom and three children. The mom, Pearson, had glass cuts and Julian needed stitches.

"I ran over and said, 'I'm a paramedic. Can I help?'" Kolesa said.

Then he saw a child face down in the back seat.

"I rolled her over and saw obvious trauma to her head," Kolesa said. "I held her head straight to protect her spine and opened her airway. She was not breathing. There was no pulse. I began chest compressions. I did them for one to two minutes and she started to breathe."

As he did CPR, Kolesa relayed information to a bystander who was on the phone with a 911 operator.

Mannix and Mackin were racing to the scene in Medic No. 9 from West Manatee Fire Rescue where they had just come on shift.

"We knew it was a medical person calling in details of this case," Mackin said. "We knew what we were dealing with because it was described as a pediatric trauma."

Mannix and Mackin relieved Kolesa and placed Onicka on a long spine board, established an IV and intubated her to stabilize her respiration rate.

"The brain swells in an accident like this and usually the swelling impacts the brain stem," Mannix said. "But in Onicka's case, her brain herniated up and out and didn't impact her brain stem. That was one of the miracles."

Mannix and Mackin stayed with Onicka until the helicopter took her to St. Petersburg. Once there, she was placed in a medically induced coma for nearly two weeks, survived three strokes and eventually had a titanium plate installed to replace the lost portion of her skull. She has a permanent shunt in her brain to relieve pressure.

The family's medical bills have reached six figures, Pearson said.

Jessica LeBoff, owner of Learning Unlimited and Manatee Learning Academy, has held two benefit fund-raisers for Onicka, who attends school with LeBoff.

"She's amazing," LeBoff said.

Pearson agrees.

The driver of a Chevrolet truck, later cited for failure to yield and having no insurance, was not injured, according to Pearson.

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